By Donna Malloy
Photo courtesy of Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Three years ago, three shining stars converged onto Clearwater Marine Aquarium and created history, unbeknownst to the three men at the time.
On December 10, 2005 fisherman Jim Savage headed for Mosquito Lagoon at New Smyrna Beach as he had many times in the past to fish for his family's dinner. The waters of Mosquito Lagoon were still that morning except for one crab trap bobber that was creating a rippling effect on the surface. Curiosity getting the better of him, Savage headed toward the bobber and was horrified at what he discovered. There, wrapped in the crab trap line, was a baby bottlenose dolphin "gasping for air," stated Savage. In order to breathe, the infant dolphin had to "lift the crab trap up with her" as she struggled to the surface for air.
"When I found her, she was bound in the shape of a 'C' because the line was wrapped around her tail and her mouth" continued Savage. No one knew that would be the last time this little dolphin would ever swim in the wild. And Savage "didn't have a clue" that he just aided in the rescue of a future international star to be named "Winter."
That afternoon, the rescue transport team from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute delivered the three month old dolphin to Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) after a four hour drive from New Smyrna Beach. The sick dolphin arrived dehydrated and by the next day her battered tail began to peel. The staff at CMA wondered if the injured dolphin would survive the night.
But survive she did and the crew dubbed the dolphin "Winter" because she was found in December. Because these mammals nurse for two years, round the clock care involved bottle feeding the infant dolphin. As the days passed, Winter's tail began to shred in layers, leaving an open stump where her tail once was and requiring daily treatments to prevent infection.
Winter compensated her loss by swimming like a shark, swishing her tail from side to side vs. up and down like a normal dolphin. As word of Winter's story began to spread, Kevin Carroll, Vice President of Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics of Sarasota, became intrigued. Could he create a prosthetic tail for Winter? That project became an "on-going process," stated Carroll. Volunteering his time along with partner Dan Strezemka, the team developed a soft gel liner that would be used in the sleeve of Winter's artificial tail before it was anchored into place.
If this gel liner could work on Winter, Carroll and Strezemka envisioned using this new gel liner on humans with prosthetics too. And this "on-going process," as Carroll mentioned, now includes a dynamic tail joint which provides enough force for Winter to correctly propel herself forward using her artificial tail flukes. This new, smaller joint is made out of 100% stainless steel and also includes energy returning cables.
But let's back up a moment. Through the media, Carroll learned about Winter's plight. That's where David Yates, CMA's Chief Executive Officer, comes in. Yates, no stranger to media exposure, arrived at CMA a few months after Winter was rescued and brought to the aquarium for her rehabilitation. During Yates tenure with Ironman Company as the Executive Vice President, the company won multiple Emmys for its NBC show and became the nation's fifth-largest sports brand.
Yates is credited with implementing an aggressive marketing plan for CMA, as well as energizing his staff and 150 volunteers. Generous donations from local businessmen such as Frank Chivas, owner of Island Way Grill, Rumba, Salt Rock Grill and Marlin Darlin Grill, have helped transform this old waste water treatment plant into a new, more efficient home for Winter.
Savage, Carroll and Yates' hands-on approach rescued, rehabilitated and shared Winter's tale of survival, science and technology with the world. And that story has not gone unnoticed. Physically challenged children have fallen in love with Winter and are inspired by her "Never give up" attitude, stated Yates.
Winter's tale has recently been documented by Gabby Mobile Productions in conjunction with CMA, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and Florida Atlantic University. The documentary, called "Winter, the Dolphin that Could," was produced by Stephen Brown and is available for $19.95. To order, please visit CMA's website at: www.SeeWinter.com or phone: 727-447-0980 or 727-441-1790.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a Florida non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to marine life rescue, rehabilitation and release, and environmental education.
Photo and caption by Donna Malloy
Photo and Caption by Donna Malloy
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