The 2011 movie Dolphin Tale touched many people with the true, inspirational story of Winter, a bottlenose dolphin who miraculously survived after losing her entire tail when it got entangled in a crab trap. Film crews have returned to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) where Winter was rehabilitated, to work on Dolphin Tale 2. Winter, the World's Most Famous Dolphin — Photo courtesy of Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Filming is going great according to CMA Director David Yates. He says “The whole cast has returned which is a rarity for a sequel; Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman and Kris Kristofferson.”
Although Winter also appears in Dolphin Tale 2, this movie focuses on the survival story of Hope. Hope arrived at CMA the day of the wrap party for the first movie, and almost exactly one year to the day of Winter's rescue.
The two-to-three-month-old dolphin was found in shallow water on the east coast of Florida, trying to nurse from her mother who sadly, was already dead. Doctors, staff and volunteers worked around the clock to save the dehydrated mammal, giving her fish milkshakes every two hours.
Hope’s CMA bio says 'she loves blowing and playing with water toys like squirt guns.' For the rest of the story, you’ll have to see the movie. Spoiler alert: there is a happy ending! Filming is underway at CMA for the movie Dolphin Tales 2 — Photo courtesy of Clearwater Marine Aquarium
78,000 people passed through CMA’s doors in 2007. The year after Dolphin Tales was released (2012), that number skyrocketed to 750,000 a year according to Yates. A second facility has opened two miles from the aquarium, dedicated to the movie, with props, videos, behind the scenes info and more. Guests are transported via boat or trolley as part of the general admission ticket.
The CMA is not your typical aquarium. Considering its notoriety, it still has a hometown feel, and access to its animals is unlike anywhere else. Visitors get as close as five feet from the dolphin pools, where the playful inhabitants are constantly in view. Guests can also see Winter - now undeniably the world's most famous dolphin - still undergoing therapy with her prosthetic tail, four to five times a day. Winter undergoing therapy with her prosthetic tail — Photo courtesy of Clearwater Marine Aquarium
A visit to the CMA over the holidays is a unique experience for the entire family; one that will be remembered for years to come. Imagine getting into the water with a dolphin, feeding a stingray or even being an animal trainer for the day. There are behind-the-scenes tours, boat tours, animal feedings and interactions, and lots of photo opps.
The aquarium’s aim is to educate while having fun. Yates says visitors, “get immersed into the world of marine life and rescue, and you get baptized into our mission when you come here. It's inspirational and educational and the animals are part of the platform for doing it.”
Basic admission to the aquarium is $19.95, with discounts for kids under thirteen and seniors. Photos with the dolphins, boat tours and other dolphin encounters are extra, however purchasing tickets online can save you up to twenty-five percent.
Clearwater was voted Best Place to watch a sunset by USA TODAY and 10Best readers so be sure to combine a trip to the aquarium with a visit to the island's pristine beaches and enjoy some local seafood. A romantic sunset on Clearwater Beach — Photo courtesy of Courtesy of the City of Clearwater
Filming is impacting hours at CMA. You can expect full access from December 18th through January 5th with the exception of Christmas Day. Otherwise hours are subject to change. Call ahead or check the website for updates until filming wraps up, sometime in mid January. Dolphin Tale 2 is scheduled to be released in September 2014.