Disclosure: My family participated in the Dolphin Tale 2 event through a partnership with Tampa Bay Bloggers and Grace Hill Media. All opinions shared are my own.
I grew up in Venice, FL and spent many summers at Mote Marine Laboratory enrolled in their summer camp programs.
For my undergrad I went to Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida where I majored in Marine Biology and Environmental Studies.
I've done internships at Mote Marine, The Pier Aquarium, and conducted field work in Isla Holbox Mexico, and Drake Bay, Costa Rica. In fact, I was part of the original team that helped to create the marine science curriculum that Mote Marine is still using today!
For nearly 20 years I've been a part of the Marine Stranding Team at Mote Marine. To say I know a thing or two about oceans and the amazing creatures that inhabit it would be an understatement.
Visiting beaches and aquariums is sort of "a thing" that the kids and I do. In fact, I have several aquariums on my bucket list.
In March 2011, the Tampa Trio and I visited the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for the first time together as a family. I had been many times in my "before kids" life, but the kids really wanted to visit when they heard of Winter's Story.
Photo taken March, 2011
Winter is an Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin that was rescued in December 2005 by Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute another facility that I did an intensive week long study with in 2000. HBOI transferred Winter to CMA where she (eventually) lost her fluke because it was entangled with a rope attached to a crab trap. The rope cut off the supply of blood to her tail. Poor Winter.
But what makes Winter's story unique is that she was eventually fitted with a prosthetic fluke. This is the first known case in the world of a dolphin using a prosthetic.
Dolphins are very social animals. When Winter lost her tank mate "Panama" in September 2013 she became withdrawn and depressed.
Hope is also an Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin. Stranded near the same beach where Winter was found. Rescued by the same team that rescued Winter.
And my family had the opportunity to see Hope when she was only a few months old and going through rehab at CMA. This is BEFORE Panama had died. In fact, CMA hadn't even named her "Hope" yet. She was still a nursling and about 5-6 months old. Such a sweet baby.
Photo taken March 2011
Fast forward 3 years and 2 movies later.
Winter Has Hope.
Photo taken August 2014
This past weekend our family was invited to visit CMA as official Dolphin Tale 2 Ambassadors.
We met other members of the media at the Sheraton Sand Key and then went over to CMA for a meet and greet with CMA CEO David Yates, and Winter and Hope's principal trainer, Abby.
We learned all about Winter's new and improved fluke, and how she gets a new one every 3-4 months. We also were fascinated with "Winter's Gel" which is basically a sock that fits over her stump before she puts on her tail.
It's a very "stretchy" material. You can see the trio pulling on it in one direction, and the trainer pulling on it the other way!
After our meet and greet with the humans, we got to meet Winter and Hope.
They are as charming as ever.
Winter even showed off her moves! In fact, you can watch Winter and Hope 24/7 on their webcam!
We didn't have enough time to explore many of the renovations that have been done to the aquarium, but we did get a chance to stop by and see the houseboat prop that they used in both movies.
And then we headed over to a local theater to catch the Premier of Dolphin Tale 2.
It was a charming film, full of hope (no pun intended) and inspiration.
Dolphin Tale 2 picks up right where Dolphin Tale ends. In a nutshell, Winter is left alone, needs to find a companion, enter Hope.
You can see the trailer here.
The story is fascinating, the cast is charming, though the scene stealer (for me) was not the dolphins. It was Rufus, the mischievous white African pelican.
Dolphin Tale 2 opens at a theater near you on September 12th. You won't want to miss it!