When the film “A Dolphin Tail” opened in Great Bend last weekend, 8-year-old Addie Ehrlich was among the first in line.
In fact, when she stood in line, she wore a T-shirt emblazoned with a photo of her posing with the movie’s marine mammal star Winter. You see, young Addie loves dolphins.
“She wants to be a marine biologist,” said Shala Ehrlich, mother of the Eisenhower Elementary third grader. This is especially true since her parents took her to Florida last December to meet the dolphin maimed at sea, rescued and fitted with a prosthetic tail.
Shala and Chad made special arrangements for their Addie to tour Clearwater Marine Aquarium, near Tampa. Their daughter was able to don a wet suit and stand on a platform in the water with Winter, where she petted her and fed fish to her.
When the Ehrlichs arrived at the facility, which specializes in rescuing and rehabilitating marine wildlife, it had just reopened following filming. She also got a behind-the-scenes tour of the aquarium.
In addition to the nearly 5-year-old Winter, Addie met Panama, an older, deaf dolphin that has acted as a surrogate mother for Winter, and assorted turtles and other sea critters.
“She’s always loved animals,” Shala said. At age four, she wanted to be a veterinarian.
Then, a couple years ago, she ordered a book at school – “Winter’s Tail.” “It all started with that book,” Shala said.
Addie started reading more on dolphins and became a fan of the injured mammal. This lead to the trip.
“We plan on going back,” Shala said.
Dolphin Tale is still showing locally. It was produced by Warner Bros.-based Alcon Entertainment. Winter plays herself and is joined by Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr., Kris Kristofferson and Nathan Gamble.
As for the accuracy of the move, “the general story is true,” Shala said. Some creative license was taken.
In December 2006, at three months of age, Winter found herself wrapped tightly in a crab trap line and unable to escape, according to the CMA web site. She was rescued from Mosquito Lagoon (near Cape Canaveral) and transported to CMA to begin a long rehabilitation. Unfortunately, Winter lost her entire tail as well as two vertebrae a result of the serious injuries that she had sustained.
Although Winter’s story is intriguing, CMA noted, it is also very rare. Many dolphins unfortunately die in mono-filament and crab trap lines.
Despite the odds against survival, in a short time, Winter has completely healed, adapted to a new swim pattern, and learned to eat fish on her own ... about 12 pounds a day. She is growing quickly, and now weighs in at 230 pounds.
The collaborative efforts of Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics Inc., marine mammal veterinarian Dr. Mike Walsh, and CMA’s marine mammal trainers, created a plan of action. Over a course of months, the team tweaked the new tail to the point Winter was able to adapt to it.
Established in 1972, Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s mission is to restore and preserve our marine environment. It does this through education, research, and the rescue, rehabilitation and release of marine life.