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Documentary reveals the true life of Winter the dolphin

By Elizabeth Batt     Aug 30, 2014 in Environment
Clearwater - She is one of the most famous dolphins in the world. But a new documentary says that Winter, the star of Dolphin Tale 1 and 2, isn't leading the glamorous life.
Produced by the 'Friends of Clearwater' and published today, the less than 17 minute documentary is asking the public not to fall for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood movies. The film, 'A Dolphin Truth', alleges that Winter and other dolphins, are being used by Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA), "to maximize profits for a few."
CMA rescued Winter in December 2005 after she was caught in a crab trap off the coast of Florida. The incident caused the young bottlenose to lose her tail. Fitted with a prosthetic replacement and two successful movies in, advocates are accusing the aquarium of exploiting Winter for profit.
The Dolphin Project's Ric O'Barry and Dr. Naomi Rose, the senior scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute, offer testimony to Winter's current conditions. O'Barry alleges that aquariums have never changed their operations, "they're just changing the language," he said. "Shows have become an educational experience ... when it's really a dolphin show couched in an education."
Dr. Rose maintains that while Winter's story might be an inspirational one for adults with disabilities, "she is paying a very high price to be that inspiration." Rose, who has personally observed Winter in her habitat at CMA, noted that in day-to-day life, the young dolphin rarely wore her tail, "because it's uncomfortable for her."
Terrie Weeks, the former Acting Executive Director at CMA suggests that the aquarium is primarily focused on marketing and development. "Rescue is a nice way to sell it to the public," she said, "but I don't think that's their primary concern anymore." Dana Zucker, the former Chief Operating Officer at CMA said that initially, CMA was doing some really good things for Winter. "I'm not seeing those things happen now," she explains, before expressing bemusement over CMA's current CEO David Yates and his Twitter handle, '@WintersAgent'.
O'Barry is adamant that public perception needs to change. "People don't see what's wrong with keeping a few dolphins in an aquarium," he said, "but what's wrong is it's abusive and unnecessary — international corporate greed," O'Barry said, "that's why they're in captivity."
After personally observing Winter, Rose said she saw, "classic, stereotyped, repetitive, [and] neurotic behavior," in the young dolphin. Rose also argued that CMA is changing its business model. "CMA is shifting," she said, "from rescue to pure display and that's unfortunate. It's not doing Winter any good."
The documentary reports this shift as something that can be seen in the number of rescues the aquarium hasn't undertaken. "Since going Hollywood with their huge success," the film argues, "they have had zero successful dolphin releases in 7 years."
While all of the experts in the documentary agree that Winter obviously needs human help and cannot be released, they do believe that her habitat can be vastly improved, something overlooked in CMA's planned expansion. "She is an intelligent animal," concludes Rose, "a thinking, feeling animal, and the situation for her is grim."
Update 9/1/2014
The Twitter handle for CEO David Yates has been changed since this article was published. Mr. Yates is now @RRRandMore.
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