The Clearwater Marine Aquarium, in Clearwater Beach, Florida, is quite different from any other aquarium you may have been to. Primarily a rescue and rehabilitation facility for marine life, the aquarium only became a popular place to visit after the story of the rescue and rehabilitation of a dolphin named Winter became a star-studded feature film, Dolphin Tale.
Since the film's creation, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium now has two separate buildings, connected by a free Jolley Trolley. The original building houses Winter and all the other animals that are either being rehabilitated for release or now live at the aquarium because they can not be released back in the wild.
There is also a brand new Winter's Dolphin Tale Adventure building dedicated completely to learning about the story behind Winter and the making of the movie Dolphin Tale. The Dolphin Tale Adventure experience is included with your admission to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and both are interesting and educational.
The Winter's Dolphin Tale Adventure facility is a behind the scenes experience of the movie Dolphin Tale through re-built scenes, movie images and actual props from the film. Since the film actually was shot in this location, the experience is very authentic.
To me the most interesting part of the Dolphin Tale Adventure was to learn more about the science behind trying to create a prosthetic for the Dolphin. Amazingly, the research done to create the prosthetic for Winter led to improvements for human prosthetics as well. It's a pretty fascinating story and a great way to bring the scientific process to life for kids.
The Winter's Tale Dolphin Adventure recently added an interactive Hurricane Experience which recreates the whipping winds of HUrricane Leroy, Florida's biggest natural disaster, as depicted in the movie. The Hurricane Experience was not completed when I visited so I wasn't able to check it out.
Take the trolly to the main Clearwater Marine Aquarium facility and you will get to see Winter in person, but make sure to set your expectations appropriately. Winter does not wear her prosthetic tale for most of the day. It is only used for therapy. You will see Winter swimming in her own pool and probably other dolphins who have recently been rescued. Trainers may be working with her and the other dolphins as well.
The aquarium doesn't have a huge collection of marine animals, like a major aquarium might. What you will see is the other animals that have recently been rescued and are now being rehabilitated and some animals that have to stay at the aquarium forever because they can not return to the wild, including several sea turtles, otters, and rays. You will learn about the dangers that marine life face from human beings that may have led to their ending up at the Clearwater Aquarium.
Make sure to stay for the dolphin show to see some of the dolphins perform. A good splash from a dolphin will refresh you from the heat of the Florida day and all that intense learning.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium also offers sea life safari boat tours to a shell island where kids can help catalog live marine life, camps and animal encounter experiences.
Check the Clearwater Marine Aquarium website at seewinter.com for location, ticket information and more information to plan your visit.