A month after the unexpected death of Winter the dolphin, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s best-known resident, plans for a permanent memorial have been revealed.
Via 360-degree videos and hundreds of still photographs, a virtual reality experience will allow visitors to “swim” with the famous bottlenose dolphin. “I’m proud to announce that Winter will live on in the physical world as well as the digital world so her signature tweet, demeanor and personality can never be forgotten,” said CMA president James “Buddy” Powell in a prepared statement.
The immersive experience will open to the public in January.
A permanent memorial has been established near the “old Winter Zone,” where she spent most of her 16 years. Visitors are encouraged to bring notes, cards, and share their stories about how Winter impacted their lives.
Earlier this year, Clearwater Marine Aquarium opened an $80 million expansion including a brand new 1.5 million-gallon water dolphin habitat.
Winter died Nov. 11 from intestinal torsion (twisted intestines). The animal had been under intense medical scrutiny and constant care since the beginning of the month.
In 2005, she had been discovered, at two months old, stranded on an Atlantic beach with ropes from a crab trap wrapped around her tail, cutting off circulation. Most of her tail flukes literally fell off; the rest was amputated.
Winter’s story was fictionalized into a successful Hollywood film, 2011’s Dolphin Tale.
In a Nov. 15 Catalyst interview, Powell discussed Winter’s impact of CMA visitation. “I can very honestly tell you that if it hadn’t been for Winter, we wouldn’t have this incredible marine hospital that we have now,” he said.
“Which is certainly going to be her legacy going into the future, that’s going to allow us to be able to rescue, treat, rehab and release marine animals into the future.”
A legacy endowment has been establish through the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. Beginning in January, gifts to Winter’s Endowment will be invested, and a portion of the annual used to address any immediate needs at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the remaining funds reinvested for further CMA support.
Winter’s body was cremated; her ashes will be released in the Gulf of Mexico in January. “Returning Winter to her natural home is a poetic ending to her incredible 16-year journey,” Powell said, “and we couldn’t think of a better way to lay her spirit to rest.”