Home to probably the world’s most loved dolphin – Winter, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) is a rescue centre and hospital for marine animals in Florida. CMA houses rescued dolphins, sea turtles, river otters, and sting rays. The most famous inhabitant is of course Winter, a dolphin without a tail, who has been the subject of the movie Dolphin Tale. The sequel Dolphin Tale 2 is the story of another famous (and permanent) inhabitant of CMA – Hope.
CMA recently released its latest economic impact study from 2012-2015, done by Tourism Economics, a leading international global tourism forecasting company. According to the study, CMA’s activities have led to more than USD 2 billion economic impact on Pinellas County in these four years. Along with this a total number of 44,444 jobs were supported in this period, averaging 11,000 per year. The study also revealed that 2.2 million room nights booked by visitors who came to the aquarium.
Winter had arrived in CMA in December 2005, following which CMA launched a global media campaign about her inspirational story. The movies Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2 were box office hits. Recently CMA released the episode of a web series called Rescue-Clearwater focusing on the real work being done at the facility. “More dolphin tail spinoffs on TV are also being planned, along with an animated TV series. Our three dolphins here – Winter, Hope and Nicholas cannot survive in the wild. In Dolphin Tail 2, two dolphins were released, as they could survive. The ideal situation is we have no animals to care for but in real life that never happens, there are always boast hitting turtles, litter wrapped around dolphins,” says David Yates, CEO, Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
A lot of time, money and effort has gone into developing Winter’s tail, which has had a another positive impact that has benefitted thousands of people using prosthetic limbs across the world. “The gel we used for Winter’s tail is being used by thousands of people with artificial limbs. The benefits have been way beyond Winter. It has also fuelled a wave for animal prosthetics around the world,” states Yates. This is done free of charge by Hanger Clinic, a human prosthetics company. Talking about almost a decade long efforts, he said, “We have been developing this tail for nine years. When we first did this, nobody had made a tail for dolphins before – we started from scratch and made dozens and dozens of tails over the years, in partnership with Hanger Clinic. While it looks like a very simple tail, a lot of hi-tech research has gone into it, to make it fit properly. It is being modified all the time. Dolphins have very sensitive skin, if Winter does not enjoy the tail, she would not wear it. It also gives her physical therapy for her back. Nobody believed we could do it – how do you put a tail on a dolphin, but we refused to give up.”
As far as promotions are concerned everything that CMA does is tourism based. “The economic impact study is jaw dropping dollars. The TV show will also show off the area and the beaches. A lot of tourism is built into the show. Everything we do has a tourism push to it,” mentions Yates.