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Winter the Dolphin died from twisted intestines, veterinarian says

winter the dolphin-clearwater marine aquarium.jpg
Posted at 8:45 PM, Nov 10, 2021

Update: The Clearwater Aquarium says the initial results of the necropsy show that Winter died of an intestinal torsion. Which according to the veterinarian, is when the intestines twist on themselves cutting off blood flow. They say the condition is inoperable and nothing could have been done.

See the full statement and watch the announcement below:

"Yesterday morning, CMA veterinarian Dr. Shelly Marquardt and several veterinary medicine experts from around the country joined a team that conducted Winter’s necropsy, an animal autopsy. This is a crucial step in learning all we can about the health challenges Winter faced leading to her passing on Thursday night.

Preliminary results indicate the cause of Winter’s death was an intestinal torsion – essentially, Winter’s intestines had twisted deep in her intestine. While our team provided Winter the best care and treatment available, the location of the torsion made it impossible to reach through surgery. There was nothing more the team could have done to save her life.

Unfortunately, this is a condition that is found in stranded wild dolphins as well as any living being with intestines. We have found there is much to learn as a community about what causes this condition, and what experts found in yesterday’s necropsy means Winter will continue helping scientists and animal rescue teams worldwide better care for these amazing animals.

Because of Winter’s injury and the distortion it caused in her body, she was more prone to facing health complications since her rescue 16 years ago. Thanks to the dedication and care provided by the SMA staff, and advancements by partners like the Hanger Clinic who created her prosthetic tail, she beat the odds and inspired millions of people during her life. For this, we are forever grateful to her.

The Animal Care staff at CMA worked around the clock to care for Winter in recent days, providing love and support, as well as medical care, including treatment to control pain and keep her comfortable."


Winter the Dolphin died Thursday evening after fighting an infection this week, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium said.

"We were very hopeful we would have been able to give you a more positive story at the end of today, but unfortunately, as you all know, "Winter" passed last night," James "Buddy" Powell, President of Clearwater Aquarium, said Friday morning.

Winter died around 8 p.m. Thursday as animal care experts from around the country worked to treat her gastrointestinal abnormality.

During Winter's preparation for her procedure, the Clearwater Aquarium said her behavior and vital signs were declining. The medical team tried several life-saving efforts, however, she died being held by her caregivers.

“We did everything we could… absolutely everything possible, no holds bared,” said Dr. James “Buddy” Powell, President of Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) said in a press conference early Friday morning.

“While we are heartbroken by Winter’s death, we are comforted knowing that our team did everything possible to give her the best chance at survival. We worked with specialists and marine mammal experts from around the country to provide her with the best care available. Our staff worked around the clock during this challenging time,” said Veterinarian Dr. Shelly Marquardt, DVM, CVA. “I’m honored to work alongside such dedicated and talented professionals who gave their all for Winter.”

"We’re all devastated. Our staff is devastated. The world is so sad to have lost an animal that has inspired us all. Her legacy will continue to live on through the work that we do. We are very grateful for what winter brought to us," Powell said.

Powell said the infection is very common in marine animals, in fact Winter had gotten it many times. Every time they treated it and it went away, but this time was different. She wasn’t responding to treatment.

Almost a dozen specialists from across the country traveled to Clearwater to treat Winter, but they are now banning together to perform an in-depth necropsy, or animal autopsy. They want to learn more about what happened and how they can help other animals at the CMA hospital in the future.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium will be closed Friday, Nov. 12 to provide time for staff to grieve.

A memorial for Winter is planned for November 20. Full details of the memorial will be announced at a later date, Powell said.

Late Friday afternoon, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium posted a new site where users can post their memories of Winter. Click here to go to the new site.

ORIGINAL STORY: Winter the Dolphin, star of the movie "Dolphin Tale", is in critical condition at Clearwater Marine Aquarium due to a gastrointestinal infection she developed earlier this week.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium officials said test results on Wednesday showed despite treatment her intestinal abnormalities have intensified, making Winter’s condition critical.

RELATED: Winter, star of 'Dolphin Tale' movies, being treated for possible infection

“We’ve been giving her numerous tests and so forth, and so those test results have shown that despite our aggressive treatment that her condition hasn’t really been improving, and perhaps even worsening,” said Dr. James “Buddy” Powell, President of Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Dr. Powell said intestinal issues are not uncommon in marine animals, but the cause of the infection is a mystery. Doctors and specialists from around the country and the world are putting their heads together to try to help.

“We have reached out to them, but they’re a network, and so, yes, they have been reaching out to us to offer whatever help they possibly can,” said Dr. Powell.

Winter the Dolphin is no stranger to a challenge. She was rescued back in 2005 off the Florida coast after she lost her tail in a crab trap line. She then became the star of the movie "Dolphin Tale", and became an inspiration to people around the world, including her prosthetic doctor for the last 15 years Dr. Dan Strzempka.

“She’s amazing, so if anything can pull through this, she can,” said Dr. Strzempka, certified prosthetist and orthotist at the Hanger Clinic.

He’s pulling for Winter, and so is the rest of the world.

“Just keep doing what you’ve been doing the last 15 years. I’ve never met a person or an animal that’s been this tough, and exceeded expectations, whatever we thought for her,” said Dr. Strzempka.

Lissette Lopez and her son, Aiden, visit Winter every year around the holidays. For the past 10 years, the nonprofit Wheelchairs 4 Kids has hosted its annual Christmas party at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

"I think for the kids to see even just an animal that they can sort of relate to and to have that connection with them, it means a lot," said Lissette Lopez.

To focus on vital care for Winter, CMA will temporarily close to the public on Friday, Nov. 12, and plans to reopen at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 13.

"On behalf of the CMA staff and Winter’s care team, we thank everyone for the incredible outpour of love and support you have shown Winter since her rescue in 2005 and especially these last few days. Many are inspired by her resiliency and this amazing response reminds us of how deeply she has affected millions, including so many on their own health journey," said CMA officials.