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Winter the Dolphin will live on at Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Virtual reality experiences, an ongoing memorial and an endowment will all be part of her enduring legacy.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Winter the Dolphin, whose story inspired millions around the world, will live on at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. 

The aquarium made the announcement Friday, which happens to be the 16th anniversary of when Winter was rescued. 

“When a loved one passes there is a very real fear that we will forget the sound of their voice or even the way they walked. For those of us who loved Winter, I’m proud to announce that Winter will live on in the physical world as well as the digital world so her signature tweet, demeanor, and personality can never be forgotten,” said President Dr. James “Buddy” Powell in a statement.

Starting in January 2022, CMA says guests will be able to virtually "swim" with Winter as part of a virtual reality immersive experience. The experience will be in CMA's Virtual Reality theater. 

“We have the technology available to us where guests will be able to virtually swim with Winter and experience her personality as if she were still alive," Powell continued.

Starting Dec. 26, fans of Winter will be able to bring notes, cards and share their stories about the famous dolphin to a permanent memorial next to the old Winter Zone at CMA, where she spent most of her life.

Also starting in January, people will be able to give to Winter's Endowment. Funds will be used to sustain the aquarium, its mission and the animals living there. 

“Through a collaboration with the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, this permanent endowment establishes a long-term sustainability strategy for the future of our organization,” Powell said.

Following her necropsy, Winter's body will be cremated, the aquarium said. In January, CMA staff says they will release her ashes into the Gulf of Mexico. 

“Returning Winter to her natural home is a poetic ending to her incredible 16-year journey and we couldn’t think of a better way to lay her spirit to rest,” Powell said.

Finally, fans will be able to keep Winter's memory alive by listening to a song made just for her. Called "In Our Hearts You'll Be," by Red Marker 28, some proceeds from the song will be used to support CMA's mission. 

Winter's story has inspired those near and far after she was rescued on Dec. 10, 2005, in a place called Mosquito Lagoon. It's on Florida's east coast, not that far from Cape Canaveral.

A fisherman named Jim Savage was out on his boat when he spotted a crab trap buoy that was bobbing against the current. When he went to investigate, he found Winter, at the time a dolphin calf, wrapped up in the rope of that crab trap.

Following her rescue, Winter was taken to Clearwater Marine Aquarium where caretakers came to a heartbreaking realization. The rope of that crab trap had been so firmly wound around her peduncle that it had cut off all the blood supply to her tail flukes.

But the difficult situation didn't keep Winter down.

Together, the staff at Clearwater Marine Aquarium watched as Winter healed without her tail flukes and figured out a new way to swim on her own. Unlike the up-and-down tail motion she'd done before, she figured out how to wiggle side to side – swimming more like a shark traditionally would.

As her survival story made national headlines, it was noticed by a man named Kevin Carroll, who is vice president of lower extremity prosthetics at the Hanger Clinic. He teamed up with Dan Strzempka, the area clinic manager, to develop a prosthetic tail that Winter could use for some of her day.

In using it, she could work her muscles in the up-and-down motion, helping minimize the negative physical effects of her side-to-side swimming pattern.

Ever since, she inspired aquarium visitors with her resiliency.

Winter gave hope to people with prosthetics. She wore her prosthetic tail during physical therapy sessions with her care team.

Winter was the star of "Dolphin Tale," which hit the big screen in 2011. The Hollywood film attracted major film actors, including Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson and Harry Connick Jr. Three years later, "Dolphin Tale 2" was released as a sequel.