I was BEYOND excited to see the dolphins Winter and Hope. Winter is the dolphin who lost her tail and Hope was rescued as a baby. As it turns out, Hope is very social, but Winter is definitely more shy. They also have a third dolphin in another pool, named Nicholas. Nicholas has third-degree sunburn which means he is unable to go back out into the wild. All three stories are heartbreaking, but at least they have each other, and sometimes others for varying lengths of time.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium's motto is "Rescue, Rehabilitate, Release", but there are some animals who cannot be safely released back into the wild. Many of the animals that will be able to be released are not in areas for the guests to see. They do this to limit human contact and dependence, so that the animals will retain their basic instincts. When they feed the sea turtles who can be returned after some rehab, the volunteers and employees cover up part of their individual pools and hide while throwing the food in to them. How do I know this? Well, Katie and I did the Behind-the-Scenes tour, so we got the skinny on everything happening in the aquarium. It was truly fascinating.
After the tour, Katie and I went back down to the first level and found a sea turtle area that we hadn't noticed before. You can see the turtles through windows at eye level. The best part? For the most part we had the area to ourselves so one turtle kept hovering near us and held his flipper out. We're best friends now. His name is Bailey and he has a buoyancy deficiency, so he can't go to the bottom of the pool. He has to work hard to stay fully submerged in the water.
But wait, there's more! The aquarium also has a secondary location which you can reach by trolley or boat. Katie and I opted for the boat. As it turns out, the second building is dedicated more to the Dolphin Tale movies and sets, although they also have a couple of petting stations and some interactive activities. It was worth seeing, but if I go back to the aquarium, I'll probably skip that part. The boat ride alone is worth it, though.
Overall, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium was incredible! I enjoyed every second of it - finally seeing Winter, making friends with some sea turtles, and learning about the rescue process. I hope to go back again, mainly because I don't think I could ever get enough of those amazing animals.