Mechanical tail and physical therapy do wonders for a Florida aquarium's star marine attraction.
She may not have a hit TV show like Flipper, but Winter the dolphin is scoring big audiences at Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Fla. Since Winter's debut at the aquarium, daily visitors have increased from roughly 300 to 600. Winter's been on TV, too—mostly because she's a study in survival.
Her end justifies the means: Winter needs a prosthetic tail (left) to swim like other dolphins. (Photos courtesy of Clearwater Marine Aquarium)
See, Winter doesn't have flukes. When rescuers found her tied up in the line of a crab trap off the east coast of Florida, the 2-month-old dolphin had abrasions and lacerations in her mouth, ulcers on her eyes, and cuts all over her body. Worst of all, the line had cut off blood flow to Winter's tail. That tail was never amputated, but it dropped off because of necrosis, says Clearwater animal care director Diane Young. Even the joint connecting the flukes eventually fell away.
Luckily, the young Winter healed well and learned to swim laterally with her flukeless rear instead of dorsoventrally, like other dolphins. But that abnormal way of swimming could eventually pull Winter's spine out of alignment. The solution is a prosthetic tail, which Winter wears for a few hours each day during physical therapy. Using visual and tactile cues, the Clearwater staff is teaching Winter to swim properly with the tail.
Winter has appeared on Good Morning America and other local and national news shows, and visitors come from all over the world—and next door—to see her. "Everyone says they heard about the aquarium and just knew they had to see Winter," Young says. "We're proud that we give animals a second chance at life."