CLEARWATER, Fla. - Preps are underway to celebrate the life of Winter the dolphin. This weekend, Clearwater Marine Aquarium is holding private memorials while inviting the public to stop by and share memories of the world-famous dolphin who died last Thursday.
CMA has been quieter without Winter's signature whistle.
"Whenever you'd hear that high-pitched Tweety Bird noise, she was by far the most vocal dolphin," said Kaylee Rhieu, senior animal care specialist.
Friday night, staff began preparations for a weekend of tributes. There's a variety of floral arrangements on the outside of Winter's habitat, including a large heart of roses with a dolphin inside.
Winter died last Thursday after suffering from inoperable intestinal torsion or a twisting of the intestines.
"We're trying to still mourn and grieve the best way we know how," said Rhieu "It'll be nice to be able to recognize how much she meant to other people, not just us here, but being able to cope with this massive loss."
A celebration of life will be held Saturday with extended dates through Wednesday, November 24. There will be a special presentation along with original footage of Winter's rescue.
She came to the aquarium in 2005 after getting stuck in a crab trap, losing her tail, and being outfitted with a prosthetic. This weekend, admission will cost $16, a dollar for each year of Winter's life.
Photo courtesy CMA
"Just by walking through our doors, being a non-profit, they're allowing us to continue our great mission of rescue, rehabilitation, and release," said Rhieu.
In the last week, a memorial outside CMA has grown with hundreds of flowers, photos, balloons, and heartfelt hand-written notes. We've seen people stop to say prayers and even shed a few tears. Feeling that love and support has been a huge help for Winter's team as they grieve while continuing their important work.
Each hand-written note left outside the aquarium tells a different story.
"Me and Julius were neighbors of Winter for 16 years," said Stuart Saltzman.
Saltzman, who was an extra in the Dolphin Tale films, lost his dog Julius a few weeks before Winter's death.
"I walk over here a lot, just to say a couple of prayers for my dog Julius and also for Winter. I just hope that they're both in a better place," Saltzman said.
He made a poster honoring the animals who were both 16 years old, and both cherished for bringing love to the world without ever speaking a single word.
"Winter brought everything back to life," Saltzman said. "I'm hoping everybody still comes. Winter would want that."
Saturday morning, there will be a private ceremony on Clearwater Beach for CMA staff, interns, and volunteers. At 7 p.m., there's another private memorial that will be streamed live at WinterTheDolphin.com.