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The blue carpet was laid out at the Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, Florida, on September 10 for that city’s premiere showing of Dolphin Tale 2. Various cast and crew members were in attendance including Nathan Gamble (Sawyer Nelson), Cozi Zuehlsdorff (Hazel Haskett), Austin Stowell (Kyle Connellan), Betsy Landin (Kat the dolphin trainer), and dolphin mascots Winter and Hope. Also walking the blue carpet were Dan Strzempka, CPO, a practitioner with Hanger Clinic’s Sarasota, Florida, patient care facility, and Kevin Carroll, CP, vice president of prosthetics, Hanger Clinic, Austin, Texas.
The two practitioners have gained a following for the prosthetic tail (now in about its 18th iteration) and specially formulated gel prosthetic sock they developed for Winter the bottlenose dolphin who first made headlines in December 2005 when she was found off the coastal waters of Florida. She was ensnared in the rope of a crab trap and was brought to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) for rehabilitation. The rope cut off circulation to her lower tail and fluke, which she subsequently lost. Winter’s real-life saga was introduced on the big screen in the 2011 movie Dolphin Tale.
Prior to the showing of Dolphin Tale 2, the colors were presented by the Amputee Veterans of America Support Team (AVAST) Color Guard, billed as the only amputee color guard in the United States. That was followed by country music star and Tampa Bay, Florida-area native Carolyn Kole, who performed for the full house. Kole sang “Winter,” a song she wrote after first reading about the dolphin’s story. Her rendition of Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun” also got the audience singing and clapping along.
The Dolphin Tale 2 story line picks up several years later, and also is inspired by true events. When the movie opens, Winter had been paired with another bottlenose dolphin who, shortly into the film, succumbs to old age. Due to her companion’s death, Winter suffers from depression and refuses to wear her prosthetic tail. By refusing to wear the prosthetic tail, Winter’s accommodative, side-to-side swim style is causing her spine to curve even more. The worsening scoliosis is not only worsening her health, but so is the depression. (In reality, according to Mike Atwell, CMA’s former marketing director, Winter does not wear the prosthetic tail full time. Rather, because Winter learned to swim without her tail, it caused her dorsal muscles to build disproportionately to her remaining tail, which caused the scoliosis. The prosthetic tail is used for rehabilitative measures and she wears it about three times per day.) Under threat of Winter being relocated to another facility by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-due to their social natures, dolphins are required to be paired-CMA comes under pressure to find another poolmate for Winter or risk the loss of a treasured animal and possibly face serious financial ramifications with the loss of a featured draw to the aquarium.
However, finding another companion is not that easy. CMA practices rescue, rehabilitation, and release, so a suitable replacement must, first of all, be another female dolphin and, second, must be unable to survive in the wild, meaning it will become a permanent CMA resident like Winter.
Dolphin Tale 2 is about friendship, resilience, and hope. In this case, the embodiment of hope comes in the form of another dolphin that eventually is rescued and found to be compatible with Winter, and aptly named Hope. The movie opened to audiences across the country on September 12.