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Winter the dolphin, star of 'Dolphin Tale' movies, dies

“The medical team tried several life-saving efforts, but she died being held by her caregivers," Clearwater Marine Aquarium said in a statement.
Image:
Winter the dolphin swims at Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Florida on Aug. 31, 2011.Chris O'Meara / AP
/ Source: TODAY

Winter, the dolphin who starred in the "Dolphin Tale" films, died on Thursday night, according to The Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

After Winter started showing signs of a gastrointestinal infection, her caretakers sounded the alarm and had been preparing her for a procedure when she went into a rapid decline.

“During preparation for a procedure, the CMA Animal Care team observed that Winter’s behavior and vital signs were declining,” officials said in a statement. “The medical team tried several life-saving efforts, but she died being held by her caregivers.”

Senior marine mammal trainer Abby Stone works with Winter the dolphin at Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Fla., on Aug. 31, 2011.Chris O'Meara / AP

The dolphin captured hearts around the world after starring in the 2011 film “Dolphin Tale” and the sequel, “Dolphin Tale 2,” released in 2014. Human actors Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman appeared alongside the animal, who was rescued in 2005.

She lost her tail after getting caught in a crab trap line and was given a prosthetic to use instead. She has been cared for by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium team ever since.

After her tail had to be amputated, Winter figured out how to swim again by wiggling her body side to side, more like a shark. Her survival story made headlines and attracted the attention of Kevin Carroll, the vice president of lower extremity prosthetics at the Hanger Clinic, CBS affiliate WTSP reported. He worked with Dan Strzempka, the area clinic manager, to develop a prosthetic tail that Winter could use some of the time.

When Winter swims with the tail on, she can work her muscles in the up-and-down motion. In doing so, she minimizes the negative impact of her usual shark-like swimming pattern, WTSP reported.

The aquarium plans to close Friday to allow time for the staff to grieve and speak with a grief counselor.

Plans are in the works for a formal memorial.

“The CMA team expresses our deepest gratitude to the thousands of people from around the world who sent caring messages for Winter. She truly inspired hope and was loved by millions of people worldwide,” the aquarium’s statement on Thursday reads. “Winter, we love you.”

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Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story referred to WTSP as an NBC affiliate. It is a CBS affiliate and has been corrected.