Rescue, Rehab, and Release… 3 magical words that describe Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium goes above and beyond to inspire everyone that walks through their doors. Of course, they are famous for their films Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2 featuring dolphins Winter and Hope. The movies educate and change lives of people facing a disability and the strength that it takes to overcome it. We will talk more about the girls later!
Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a non-profit organization. Most of the animals that come through their doors have an illness or severe injury. Once the animal arrives they create a rehabilitation program specifically designed for that animal with the goal of returning it to the wild. If an animal to unable to return to the wild, it stays under their care and helps educated and inspire the many visitors that come to see CMA’s amazing work.
There are many exhibits to enjoy at CMA. The first one we came to is the surgical suite. It is a real functioning animal hospital, and if you’re lucky you could watch them perform a surgery or a routine medical check up! Following that we were able to see the food prep area for the animals and really see what goes into feeding all their special animals.
Next, on the 2nd story, we came to the animal exhibits. First came Rufus Beach, it is home to “Ricky” the great white pelican that plays Rufus in the film. Right next to Rufus Beach is the area called Shark Pass, that is currently home to nurse sharks, Thelma and Louis. You may even catch a glimpse of some tropical fish calling that area home too.
Then we came to Winter’s Zone! In this area, you can look from above and see Winter and Hope, CMA’s Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, playing around. They were having a ton of fun swimming around and splashing!!! CMA does special presentations with them daily. But don’t forget to go down stairs and check out Shipwreck Alley, where you can see an under water viewing area for Winter and Hope. There are tons of great photo opportunities down under in the viewing tunnel. The day we were, there they would follow us from window to window posing for our cameras! They definitely have the movie star thing down good!!!
Next to Winter and Hope… Chilling in his large pool is a green sea turtle named Cocoa. It is so beautiful to watch sea turtles swim and it is amazing how close he was to us. I could have stood there all day! Otter Oasis, right next door, is the home to their pair of North American river otters Walle and Cooper. They were enjoying time swimming in the water and relaxing up on their beach area.
Sawyer’s Passage is home to many sea turtles and has a sting ray touch pool. It really is amazing how smooth sting rays feel! On the other end of the aquarium up stairs is the Standing Deck that is home to their male Atlantic bottlenose dolphin Nicholas. This area was built to house newly rescued marine animals. There are seats up there that you can watch Nicolas cruise around the tank and see beautiful views of Clearwater. But watch out there is a splash zone!! Plus, if you’re lucky enough you can catch a glimpse of some wild dolphins in the waterway!
Down on the first floor is where you can see all the underwater viewing areas, but it is also home to the string ray beach. This is where you can hand feed some sting rays! Don’t be scared… it is a really cool experience. Behind the stingrays, there is an area that replicates what a sea turtle nesting area looks like, which helps visitors to better understand how to protect their nests. You can also check out Mavis’ Rescue Hideaway, where Harold (the sea turtle that plays Mavis in the films) lives along with many other sea turtles and fish friends. There is a story about every sea turtle that is in the hideaway area, including their name and injury. Many of the animal exhibits offer daily presentations to learn about these marine animals and how to preserve and protect them in the wild.
At the end of our visit to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, we decided to check out what was playing at the Spectrum Theater. They play a documentary of the story of how they found Winter. She was found on the East coast of Florida in 2005 and she was only 2 months old. We were able to really see the condition this poor baby dolphin was in after being trapped in a crab trap line. CMA was unsure at the time if this young dolphin was going to survive, but then you get to see the progression of how she became healthier and stronger. You then get to see how they built her prosthetic tail and the changes it has gone through since the very first one made. You got to see how winter learned to adapt to swim with the prosthesis. It also shows some stories of how Winter has inspired so many people. People with and without disabilities. I’ll warn you it was emotional for me to watch some parts of the documentary, but in the end, it put a smile on my face and my heart was full of love for this place and remarkable inspiring work they do for Winter, Hope, and all of their marine friends at CMA.
Then we learned the story of Hope, Winter’s best friend. She was found in 2010 on the East coast of Florida. She was estimated to be 2-3 months old and was found with her deceased mother. Hope was extremely dehydrated and lacking nutrients that are found in the mother’s milk. Hope was given 24-hour care and bottle fed every 2 hours. Unfortunately, Hope was not able to be released back into the wild because she never learned the necessary skills from her mother to survive. Hope is now healthy and is enjoying her time with Winter! The girls are best buds!
Clearwater Marine Aquarium is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Their hours vary so make sure to check their website. Tickets run $21.95 for adults, $16.95 for kids (kids 2 and under are free), and $19.95 for seniors. Parking in the shaded parking garage is $6, but there are many other options to park for free nearby.
There are many other activities you can add to your day at CMA for an additional fee including specialized boat and kayak tours, animal encounters with photo opportunities, behind the scenes tours, and children’s camps.
If you have not been over to Clearwater Marine Aquarium, you definitely need to go check out the story of Winter and Hope and see this amazing aquarium in their mission to rescue rehab, and release, and how their animal ambassadors continue to inspire people every day.
To learn more about Clearwater Marine Aquarium and to book your trip, check out their website here!
*Some stock photos provided by Clearwater Marine Aquarium