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Clearwater Marine Aquarium: Home of Movie Stars and Animal Rehab

Have you seen Dolphin Tale? Have you seen Dolphin Tale 2? If you haven’t, I bet some children in your life have! Did you know that you can see the stars of these movies at Clearwater Marine Aquarium? Winter and Hope permanently reside at this animal hospital and rehabilitation center due to the severity of their injuries. The mission of Clearwater Marine Aquarium is Rescue Rehab and Release. When you spend time at CMA, it becomes clear that you are a visitor in a working animal hospital and rehabilitation center. At every point, you as the guest are thanked and appreciated for contributing to the care of these animals by visiting and purchasing admission.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a quick and easy drive from Orlando. We drove over as a family on a Friday morning and arrived at about noon. The perfect way to use that drive time from Orlando was by watching Dolphin Tale in the car! If you are visiting my blog from Instagram, you may have seen the giveaway in honor of our visit to CMA. If you complete the steps on Instagram and subscribe to the blog, you have the chance to win Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2, as well as two mini posters from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

We have seen the movie many times, but watching it in the car on the drive over was perfect timing to get excited again about the amazing story. Although there are some discrepancies between the movie and the real life story of Winter and Hope, the spirit of perseverance and hope in the face of challenge remains the same.
When you enter Clearwater Marine Aquarium, you find a spot in the parking garage and proceed down to the admissions counter. This is a colorful and entertaining area, which is wonderful to keep the kids busy while your family is waiting. There is a short walk from the parking garage to the aquarium, while the area is under construction. The part of the movie that explains how Clearwater Marine Aquarium started as a water treatment plant is absolutely true. And when you visit, you get the sense that the aquarium has been pieced together to accommodate their growth. There are plans for a new visitor’s center, which will also allow CMA to accept more animals that need rescued and rehabilitated.

When you first enter CMA, you have the chance to take some really fun pictures! Check out these silly children:

There is so much to see at Clearwater Marine Aquarium! There are sea turtles, touch tanks, sharks, sea otters, and of course, dolphins. But very importantly, all of the animals that live at CMA are deemed non-releasable by the government. This means that they cannot safely be released back into the wild because of a number of different factors. Many of these animals grew up without any maternal involvement, and are not able to live in the wild because they lack the ability to hunt for food or survive on their own.
Many of the sea turtles that end up at CMA have fibropapilloma virus, which require a special laser treatment. This treatment is only available at five centers in Florida, and is very expensive. Clearwater Marine Aquarium treats this condition in sea turtles and then releases them if they are healthy enough. Many sea turtles also are victims of being hit by a boat. They then sometimes develop “bubble butt,” which is where their buoyancy is altered, and they cannot properly hunt for food. The three primary reasons sea turtles end up becoming non-releasable are the pap virus, bubble butt syndrome, and fishing line entanglement. To help protect more sea turtles, Clearwater Marine Aquarium helps educate guests on the proper way to dispose of fishing line, and the safest hooks to use when fishing. In all of these ways, CMA is helping to raise a new generation of those that are aware of how to keep our marine life safe and healthy.

The stars of Clearwater Marine Aquarium are Winter and Hope! You can see them from both above and below the water. They also have a secluded area that they can go to in order to rest and retreat from their adoring public. Winter is 13 years old and Hope is 8 years old. Unlike in the movie, Winter’s tail actually fell off because of the severity of her injury. She wears her prosthetic tail just a few times a week for a few minutes at a time for physical therapy. She has scoliosis in her back, which is clearly noticeable. She is well cared for and very loved. There is no Winter or Hope show exactly, but there are lots of presentations throughout the day that explain what the trainers and therapists are doing. This follows the theory of the animals not being performers, but rather part of a working animal hospital. Winter and Hope eat about 12 pounds of fish daily, which is restaurant quality and hand inspected. During the time after her injury, Winter has had 20-30 prosthetic tails, and has never destroyed any. They have all been donated by Hanger Clinic, which also makes human prosthetics. Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a non-profit and survives by the generosity of their supporters.
During our visit to Clearwater Marine Aquarium, we also had the opportunity to go on the Sea Life Safari. During this 90 minute experience, you get a chance to participate in a “net pull,” which is actual research that is helping to establish a baseline for the marine life in the Clearwater Bay. The boat that we were on is only one of two that are permitted to do this type of research. During the net pull, marine life is gathered, and then taken around the boat in a show and tell. You also have a chance to disembark from the boat and go shelling on a small island. I loved this part of the Sea Life Safari! We got only shells without living mollusks, and added some treasures to our shell collection.

When we returned from the Sea Life Safari, we visited a few favorite displays again, and then headed to the car. A visit to Clearwater Marine Aquarium is extremely educational, informative, and entertaining. It is an honor to be able to visit a working animal hospital and learn how we can all do better to preserve and care for marine life and our ocean waters. The animals at Clearwater Marine Aquarium are all there because they have nowhere else to go. When you visit, you are contributing to their care by paying admission, buying souvenirs, and donating to their mission of Rescue Rehab and Release.

*We were given free admission in exchange for my honest and unbiased review. All opinions are my own.

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