So, I went to see Dolphin’s Tale recently. If you haven’t heard about it yet, the movie is based upon the real life story of a bottlenose dolphin named Winter. The real Winter (who stars as herself in the movie) was found entangled in a crab trap line in the Mosquito Lagoon on the east coast of Florida. This was six years ago and she was only about 2 or 3 months old at the time. A fisherman found her bobbing in the waves and gasping for air. To save her, he cut some of her lines loose. Despite these efforts, she still couldn’t swim as the rope was still wrapped around her. It was particularly tight around her tail.
Staff and volunteers from various local stranding networks rescued her and brought her to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, about five hours away. Winter’s tail needed to be amputated and it did not look like she would survive. Survive she did, and a prosthetic tail was made for her.
I really liked the movie as it touched upon two things close to my heart: wild dolphins and the incredible resilience of people with disabilities. Upon returning home, I did some research on Winter’s real life story and checked in on how she is doing.
Winter is still living at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and she appears to be doing well. (My husband and I actually visited this aquarium about 12-14 years ago. They specialize in rescue and rehab of marine mammals of all types.) There are several webcams set-up around Winter’s “pool”. You can see the webcams here www.seewinter.com and you can also learn more about the Aquarium’s mission.
My first reaction upon seeing Winter was that the pool looked awfully small. I am not a dolphin expert, but still, I was hoping it would be more substantial. Apparently a new home is in the works that is much larger. Winter also has a “surrogate mother” living with her whose name is Panama. Panama is also a rescued dolphin and is not a candidate for release back into the wild.
Winter will often float on mats placed around her pool. This gives her an opportunity to independently rest while still being able to breathe. It is both sad and inspirational at the same time. It appears that Winter now participates in at least three “shows” a day, and attendance at the aquarium is up substantially due to exposure from the movie’s release. People with disabilities travel from around the world to be inspired by and to connect with Winter’s plight.
Learning about Winter got me thinking. It is clear that without intervention by humans, Winter would have died. She was only 2-3 months old and still dependent on her mother for milk. She had not yet been taught how to catch fish and her mother had seemingly abandoned her. Again, I am not an expert but given the circumstances it seems apparent Winter would not survive in the wild without having learned the essential skills from her mother. Calves stay with their mothers for their first several years and this is when their survival and social skills are taught.
Winter was not captured from the wild, she was rescued from certain death. She is actually very lucky to be alive. The bottom line is I think her quality of life is not what it should be, but given the realities it may be the best quality of life it can be.
As you can imagine, this movie has spurred some debate.
What do you think? Given these circumstances, is it acceptable that Winter lives in captivity and performs? Is she being inhumanely exploited? Is participating in shows the price she pays for being given a second chance? Will the public be more likely to care about dolphins because they were introduced to and learned about Winter?