‘We did everything we could’: Winter the Dolphin died from intestinal torsion, vets say

Winter the Dolphin died from intestinal torsion, or a twisting of the intestines, according to veterinarians at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

The star of the Dolphin Tale movies passed away Thursday night in the arms of her caretakers.

A necropsy, or an animal autopsy, was performed on Friday and preliminary results showed that her intestines had randomly twisted and blood supply was cut off in the loops.

Dr. Shelley Marquardt, a veterinarian with CMA, said intestinal torsion occurs in dolphins, dogs, cats and other animals and since it occurs randomly, there was nothing vets could do.

"It was not an operable location and there was nothing we could have done," Marquardt stated. "We take great comfort in knowing we did everything we could for her and we made her as comfortable as possible and ultimately she passed away with her caregivers and all the people that loved her the most."

Winter the Dolphin in 2017. Winter in 2017

Winter was discovered entangled in a crab trap line in a Florida lagoon when she was just two months old. She lost her tail as a result of her injuries and has been a fixture at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium since 2005. 

A team of experts developed a first-of-its-kind prosthetic tail for Winter. She adapted to it, made a complete recovery and learned to swim like other dolphins. 

MORE: Bay Area, 'Dolphin Tale' stars react to death of famous Clearwater aquarium resident

Marquardt said Winter did sustain changes to her spine and does not know if the loss of her tail factored into her intestinal torsion. She said there are other tests pending from the necropsy and while the results will be back in several weeks, she stressed that it may not be clear what impact if any, her spinal changes had on her intestinal condition. She also added that while the vets did not know if Winter was in pain, they did everything they could to make her comfortable. 

"Medically we were giving her all the things that made her comfortable because we did not know, so we believe she was as comfortable as she could possibly be," Marquardt said. "That was a very high priority for the situation we were in and we know that, just like your dog or cat or any other animal that you have, making sure that they are comfortable in their final days is ultimately everything that we want to provide for them."

Winter the dolphin (Provided by Clearwater Marine Aquarium)

During a press conference, Marquardt teared up as she spoke about her experience with Winter.

READ: Winter the dolphin dies, leaving legacy of perseverance and inspiration

"She’s the strongest little dolphin that I have ever met and we learned so much from her and have been privileged to have 16 wonderful years with her," Marquardt stated. 

Marquardt wasn’t alone in her grief. CMA staffers were seen wiping away tears as the facility reopened to the public after having been closed on Friday. 

Winter the Dolphin

Winter is seen with her famous prosthetic tail in this file image courtesy of Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

CMA Vice President of Zoological Care said they are finding comfort in being with each other, the animals at the aquarium and the public. 

"We’re all grieving right now, so it’s nice to feel that sense of community and that community has such reach. It’s national, it’s international and I think we are all grieving and we love the support," Martin explained. 

A public memorial for Winter is scheduled for Nov. 20 at CMA.