A prosthetic tail offers hope and a movie deal for one famous Florida dolphin

Winter the dolphin

Image courtesy Chris O'Meara of the Associated Press

In December 2005, 3-month old Winter, a bottlenose dolphin, was found by a local fisherman tangled up in the buoy line of a crab trap in Indian River Lagoon near Cape Canavereal. The buoy line had cut off blood flow to Winter’s tail, causing the fluke to slowly fall off like shreds of paper. A team at Clear Water Marine Aquarium, a nonprofit animal rescue center housed in the city’s former water treatment plant, worked tirelessly to save Winter’s life. Today, she is a happy, social, and healthy 4-year old who has recently made news, not only for being the first dolphin recorded to survive without its powerful flukes, but also because she has been working closely with reknowned Prosthetic specialist Kevin Carroll to create a prosthetic tail.

Since losing her tail, Winter has learned how to swim and play without it, but experts fear that her adjustments may hurt her delicate spine in the long run if other options are not found. The dolphins flukes (i.e. each half of its tail) are used for propulsion while its flippers are most often used for steering and braking. Winter’s adaptations to swimming without her flukes has led her to swim with moves similar to the undulating swimming style of an alligator and the side-to-side tail swipes of a shark. Winter uses her flippers to begin her propulsion. However, experts say that Winter’s swimming style will lead to spinal problems; evidence of this is already indicative by the way she sometimes bends her spine in an unnatural curve.

Winter's prosthetic tail

Image courtesy Chris O'Meara of the Associated Press

While trainers do not expect Winter to wear the prosthetic tail full-time, she is wearing the tail daily, especially during her work outs and extensive physical therapy sessions designed to keep her muscles strong, her spine in alignment, and to keep her tail from deteriorating.

But as any good test subject, Winter is not only reaping the benefits of her new prosthetic, she is also providing prosthetic specialist Kevin Carroll with invaluable information that has alread helped at least one veteran amputee in his recovery. Air Force Senior Airman Brian Kolfage lived in pain in his prosthetic legs. Having lost both of his legs in a mortar bomb in a 2004 attack in Iraq, Kolfage had what Carroll describes in an interview with USA Today as “dagger-like boney growths sticking into the socket.” Carroll saws these protrusions as being similar to those he saw in Winter. It was through developing the gel sleeve that he developed to allow the prosthetic flukes to cling to Winter’s tail without irritating her skin that he was able to sooth the painful prosthesis that Kolfage was living with. By necessitating new development in the field of prosthetics in order to help Winter, Carroll hopes that, like Kolfage, Winter’s case will be able to help other prosthesis users in the future.

Currently the aquarium team of specialists along with Carroll and his team of specialists continue to develop new prosthetic attachments and physical rehabilitation to train Winter to using the artificial flukes. Plans are to continue socializing Winter to new prosthetic pieces until the time, yet to be determined, they will attach the first fully prosthetic artificial tail flukes.

In the meantim, Winter’s disability and her amazing methods of adaptation and assistance devices has her starring in an upcoming film alongside Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr., and Ashley Judd. Filming for the 3-D movie, entitled “Dolphin’s Tale,” will begin September 27, 2010. Produced by Alcon Entertainment, filming will be done at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where a $300,000 major addition to the aquarium, including a 20,000-gallon recovery pool and additional 80,000-gallon pool is currently under construction. Though the tanks are being built for the purposes of filming the movie, they will remain as part of the nonprofit facility to help aid in its purposes of animal rescue. The film producers have also made agreements to share profits from the movie and its Winter merchandising as endowments to help keep the facility growing and operating.

Visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium at www.seewinter.com/winter for more on Winter and updates on the movie’s production.

The Related links below share more of the story on Winter’s prosthetic tail and the makings of the movie.

Davis, Phil. “Prosthesis Offers Hope for Tailless Dolphin.” USA Today. Associated Press, 25 Aug. 2007. Web. 18 Aug. 2010. http://www.usatoday.com/news/offbeat/2007-08-25-tailless-dolphin_N.htm.

Belcher, Walt. “Winter Practices, Construction Starts for Dolphin Movie.” Tampa Tribune. Tampa Tribune, 17 Aug. 2010. Web. 18 Aug. 2010. http://www2.tbo.com/content/2010/aug/17/winter-practices-construction-starts-dolphin-movie/news-breaking/.

3 comments so far

  1. Hilary Benedict on

    It was very interesting for me to read the article. Thank you for it. I like such topics and anything that is connected to this matter. I definitely want to read a bit more on that blog soon.

    Hilary Benedict

  2. Masci84418 on

    “.’ I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives useful information “:”

  3. Hannah on

    I have got the movie dolphin tale

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