A Winters Tale –
Escaping the cold of Kentucky, my first week in Florida also offers unusually long period of temps below freezing. In such, the initial foray into mobile living is not without challenges. With temps dipping below freezing, the nightly routine is to disconnect water and sanitation hoses. On nights when temp is just above freezing I don’t sleep soundly. I wake up every couple of hours to run a little water from each of the faucets and flush the toilet.
Somewhat fearful of running out of propane in the middle of the night, I try to limit the RV furnace usage, instead relying on a little space heater. I find it a little concerning that every time I get in my truck I am presented with an ominous hard freeze warning. Granted I am in much better shape than those further north, but this isn’t the way I envision this journey starting.
Ironically, on the first sunny day, I decide to go south for an extra dose of Winter.
A Winters Tail
Winter is a bottle nose dolphin that was found entangled in a crab trap when she was only two months old. The circulation to her tail flukes was cut off. After disentanglement, she was transported to Clearwater Marine Aquarium for treatment of her extensive injuries. Despite exhaustive efforts to promote healing, her tail deteriorated and could not be saved. CMA’s marine mammal team created a unique plan to attach a prosthetic tail to Winter. Winter’s energy and ability to adapt to her new physical form surpassed expectations and she recovers completely.
Her miraculous recovery is such a feel good story that her journey is the subject of the movie; Dolphin Tale. Some of the movie’s scenes were shot here and several of the props used are on display.
I’m excited to meet Winter and the other animals at the aquarium. However, everything from parking to ticketing and just getting to the “Dolphin Experience” that I have signed up for is disorganized. I envision a polished aquarium or Sea World type experience and quickly become very aggravated at the lack of organization of the place. I am most often easy going, however, I am prone to be vocal when pressed so far. I’m holding my tongue.
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon to be there
I rush through the large room of pools out to the Stranding deck where I am to meet the dolphin, Nicholas. Nicholas was rescued on Christmas Eve some 15 years ago when he and his mother were beached and suffered severe sun burns. Unfortunately his mother didn’t survive and Nicholas never learned the life skills that would allow him to be re-released into the wild. He becomes a permanent resident of the CMA.
Nicholas has been in a holding tank throughout the night and I am his 1st customer of the day. He rushes out of the tank not to see me but to play with his toys that were in his “viewing” tank. I find this kind of cute. Finally, he’s ready to accept his “pose” commands.
The photo-op with Nicholas is a sterile “stand here”, “left hand out”, “look at camera”, “thank you”. It wasn’t until after the photo shoot that I got to see and feel a true connection with the dolphin. There was only one other person that opted for the dolphin experience and the trainers gave us a little private showing of what a dolphin is actually capable of. As Nicholas went through a series of calls, jumps, spins and frolicking all with a smile on his face, I feel my crotchety attitude begin to thaw.
Even more to sea
Feeling satisfied of a good dolphin experience, I reenter the facility to see Winter and her roommate Hope. They are prominent in the main pool of the facility. She gets around remarkably well even without her prosthetic. I enjoy watching her and what I assume is a physical therapy session she undergoes with a staff member. She is a good patient. I catch a couple of other 10-15 minute presentations. The biologist and trainers recall stories about their other residents: sea turtles, otters, pelicans, sharks and others. The stories of the animals is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time.
Though billed as an aquarium the CMA is a working marine animal hospital and rehab center. It is kind of saddening to see a sea turtle stretched out in surgery to have pap tumors burned off of him. I wonder what the poor animals must be thinking; I like to believe they know we are there to help them.
Down below deck are more exhibits that I nearly overlooked. Most notably was stingray beach where you can pet and feed stingrays and well as the underwater viewing stations.
Here comes Sandy Claws
I had dropped Murphy off at a local doggie day care while I toured the aquarium. I assured him that if he was a good boy I’d take him to the beach afterward. My original plans were to go to Fort De Soto beach but after looking at the map Honeymoon Island is closer. Murphy is at a fever pitch as we cross the causeway from Dunedin. The sight of water all around just amps up his energy.
I was a little put off by the stringent leash laws in place for a “dog park”. We take the path down towards the beach and I notice its pretty deserted. Facing a tough choice, remain a law abiding citizen and keep him leashed or keep my word to my best friend. After his initial romp through the bay, I knew I made the right choice. His smiling face and frantic tail wagging are priceless; topping a perfect Winters’ Day.