Things have changed.

The non-profit Clearwater Marine Aquarium opened on Clearwater Beach in 1972 in a former water treatment plant. They opened as a research and learning center and by 1980 they started rehabilitating dolphins. I don’t remember going there as a child when we use to come down to Clearwater to visit my grandparents but I do remember visiting a few times with my parents when they retired down here in the early 90’s. When Brett and I moved down here 19 years ago I got an annual pass and took my Mom there to see the dolphins a lot. She was in a retirement home and was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. She lived close by and it made for a fun morning out for her. She loved just sitting and watching the dolphins and turtles swimming around. Back then you could park at the front door and walk right in. No parking decks or lines to get in, You could also get pretty close up to the dolphins.

The aquarium is home to Winter (the movie star from A Dolphin’s Tale). Winter lost his tail years ago and the aquarium was able to get a prosthetic tail to help him swim better. It’s been several years since I had been and they recently had a big addition built on (they added a 1.5 million gallon tank) so I decided to head over to the beach to see Winter on a rare Monday off. I had to pay to park in a deck, stand in a line (small one though) to get in on a Monday. I’m glad they are doing so well though. They do a lot with injured sea life here. Not just rehabilitating them here but they send teams out to rescue as well.

You walk in on the upper level and can see into the pool. I didn’t take many pictures up here since it was dark inside and the dolphins were swimming lower down in the water. This is not a dolphin show like in the old days. These are injured dolphins that are being rehabilitated that you get to see up close. Although if you hit it right at feeding time, the dolphins do perform specific behaviors as part of feeding but no jumping out of the water and flipping over.

Here’s were you want to be. There are windows all around the tank so you can walk around and see different dolphins. Winter and his girlfriend Hope are in the main tank.

Winter did not have on his prostetic tail while I was there. You can see he is missing his flipper. He came pretty close to the window.

On the other side there were several other dolphins swimming close to the window. The glare from the window did not make it easy to get pictures. The dolphins in the main tank live here full time now. They all have some type of injury including vision loss, hearing loss and other illnesses where they would not survive being released back into the wild. The main goal is to release the dolphins back out and most of them do get set free after they recover.

There are also many other types of animals here including lots of turtles. All were injured at some time. You can see in that (blurry) picture on the bottom that the turtle is missing his front feet.

The new building from the upper parking deck.

Pano across the intercoastal waterway looking towards Clearwater.

Looking toward the beach from the aquarium. I should have gone over for a quick swim but the beach was packed in April, even on a Monday. Parking on the beach is also tough and expensive so there’s that. And, I was starving so it was time to head home for lunch.

Yes, masks were still required in April here. Even though a lot of it is outside, people crowd in front of the windows. Hoping my next trip is maskless.

image-in-ing: weekly photo linkup

Our World Tuesday Graphic

Visiting the local movie star

Panama was in the same pool as Winter. Named after Panama City, where she was found, she was Winter’s surrogate mother. She seemed very friendly.

Panama kept showing off her tail. She seemed to be saying “I have a tail, see!”

This is Hope, found in December of 2010. Her mother had died. She was found on the night of The Dolphin Tale wrap party so the dolphin volunteer rescue team had to leave the party early to rescue Hope.

Close up of Winter.

Winter is now in the inside pool so the lighting and shadows made it hard to get a good shot of her. She did not have on her prosthetic tail while I was there.

Hazel’s houseboat sits right next to the parking lot.

I hadn’t been to see Winter since the movie had been released. The last time I was there, the movie had been made but hadn’t come out yet.  If you haven’t seen Winter’s Dolphin Tale, you should. I have seen it several times and still shed a tear at the end. If you’re in the Tampa Bay area, stop by and see Winter. But, go early on a school day. It gets crowded fast.  You can see Winter live here at Winter’s Webcam.  You can also check out my last post about Winter here.

Camera Critters