TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Staff members at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium bid a final farewell to the beloved Winter the Dolphin on Thursday as they released her ashes into the Gulf of Mexico.
“Winter the Dolphin made her return to the sea,” aquarium staff said in a news release. The Tampa Bay icon and star of the movie “Dolphin Tail” died in November after battling intestinal issues. She was 16 years old.
Winter’s care staff boarded a 45-foot U.S. Coast Guard response boat Thursday to release the dolphin’s ashes into the Gulf. They were in a Himalayan sea salt urn.
“Being able to return Winter to her natural home was the best feeling in the world,” Zoological Care VP Kelly Martin said. “Our goal at Clearwater Marine Aquarium is always to rehabilitate rescued marine life so they can return to the wild. In Winter’s case, as is the case with all non-releasable animals, she unfortunately could not complete her return to the wild in life. But today, we were able to give her that final step – a return home.”
The emotional ceremony for the aquarium’s beloved dolphin that was loved by millions included a Coast Guard C-130 flyover and poems. Rose and orchid petals were released into the Gulf along with Winter’s ashes. Staff members also blew bubbles in honor of one of Winter’s favorite enrichment activities.
Winter spent most of her life at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium after being rescued at just two months old. The bottlenose was found tangled in a crab trap line in Mosquito Lagoon and eventually lost her tail. She later received a prosthetic replacement.
Her story inspired the 2011 film “Dolphin Tale” starring Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson and Morgan Freeman.