Winter the Dolphin is in the news quite a bit lately, with her movie debut scheduled for later this month. (Click here to go to the website.) Those of us who’ve read about her for years and have followed her amazing journey from rescued animal to global source of inspiration are not surprised one bit that Hollywood called. How can one NOT be inspired of her story of survival and adaptation despite staggering odds to the contrary?
Caught in a crab trap to the point where her body was bent into a horseshoe, the few-month-old baby Atlantic bottlenose dolphin’s body flailed in the water attracting Mosquito Lagoon fisherman Jim Savage in December, 2005. His call to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission put in motion an army of biologists, and other rescuers, who would work tirelessly for hours in an attempt to save the small dolphin’s life.
Although through movie magic Winter’s rescue seems rather quick it did, in fact, take many hours of a unusually cold Florida day, and into the night.
A research assistant at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, Teresa Mazza, was one of the first to respond to the cetacean stranding. When she got there just before 10 a.m., Winter was floating on the surface in the middle of the waterway. Together with the fisherman who found and disentangled her, Teresa and Claire Surrey, a manatee rescue expert from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, gently guided her towards a sandbar. The women then took turns holding the dolphin in the frigid water across their laps, monitoring her vital signs, and doing their best to keep the frightened calf calm until about 4:30 when scientists from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce arrived and the transportation team got there to take her to her new home.
It was just before sunset when Winter was loaded into the SeaWorld rescue vehicle for her 165-mile-long long journey across the state to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The Animal Care team gladly accepted the “hand off” and each member crossed fingers and toes in hopes that the struggles of the day were not too much for the exhausted dolphin to bear. They worried, too, if her tail would ever heal from the injuries inflicted.
After hours on the road, more biologists, veterinarians, trainers, and volunteers met the SeaWorld Animal Care team and their very precious cargo. Though badly injured, the dolphin’s spirit showed the staff that they should, indeed, hold out hopes that she could survive.
And survive she did! Winter, named for the winter day she was rescued, is now the goodwill ambassador for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium whose team works day in and day out in her continuing recovery.
Despite workers’ best efforts, Winter did lose her tail. It wasn’t “movie magic” that helped her swim again… but some talented, caring prosthetic experts. But that is another dolphin tale to come!