Photo of dolphin care at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Florida (2014).
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in Clearwater, Florida. It is dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of injured marine animals, public education, and animal-assisted therapy and research.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium opened in 1972 at its current location on Clearwater Beach, in a former water treatment plant (the large tanks being well-suited for rehabilitation operations).
Numerous forms of marine life are permanent residents at the aquarium, all of which have serious injuries that prevent their return to the wild.
The aquarium’s best-known permanent resident, and the focus of its marketing campaigns, is Winter, a bottlenose dolphin who was rescued in December 2005 after having her tail caught in a crab trap. Her injuries caused the loss of her tail, and the aquarium fitted her with a prosthetic tail which brought worldwide attention to the facility. Winter later starred in the 2011 film, Dolphin Tale, and an upcoming 2014 sequel, Dolphin Tale 2, shot partially on location at the aquarium.
In 1972, a group of private volunteers decided it was time to establish a permanent marine biology learning center in the Clearwater area. They were incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization under the name Clearwater Marine Science Center (CMSC). In 1978, the city of Clearwater agreed to donate the aquarium’s current facility, an abandoned water treatment plant, to CMSC. With its huge holding tanks and bayside location, the building was a perfect fit for a marine facility’s needs. In 1979, marine biologist Dennis Kellenberger was hired as CMSC’s Executive Director. Kellenberger’s main duties were teaching summer camp classes for children and spearheading a massive remodeling effort of the facility. Gradually, the cement and steel building was modified for aquarium purposes and in 1980 was granted a USDA Research Facility permit, allowing it to prepare two 65,000 gallon tanks for the rehabilitation of dolphins, whales and sea turtles. In 1981, the first exhibit room was opened to the public. The room featured old exhibits from the Sea-Orama, a mounted fish exhibit which was formerly on display at the Clearwater Marina. Over the next few years, thanks to individual and corporate donations and immense volunteer efforts, CMSC continued to grow. In 1984, CMSC rescued a stranded Atlantic bottlenose dolphin named “Sunset Sam”. This was the first dolphin in Florida to survive a beaching. However, due to chronic liver problems, Sunset could not be released into the wild and became CMSC’s first resident dolphin. Sunset Sam was taught how to paint as a form of animal enrichment, and the sales of his paintings were used to fund the CMSC’s operations and stranding program. In the 1990s, as renovations continued to provide more public area and education programs, the facility’s name was changed to Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) to reflect the increasing level of community interaction. In 2005, CMA’s most famous permanent resident, a bottlenose dolphin named Winter, was rescued by CMA after being discovered entangled in the ropes of a crab trap. The ropes cut off the blood supply to the dolphin’s tail, and resulted in its’ loss. To give Winter the ability to swim normally, CMA worked with a team of experts to create a prosthetic silicone and plastic tail for her. Winter’s story brought international recognition to CMA and inspired two major films, Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2, each of which was partially filmed at the aquarium.