Clearwater Marine Aquarium | First Location
This year was our second time visiting Clearwater Beach and of course the famous dolphin without a tail 'Winter' at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. I can't say that last year's visit was fun for my, at the time, fifteen month old girl. She liked watching the animals, but her attention span did not last long.
This year was different. My daughter who is now almost 2.5 and talking, was very interested to see Winter. Adam and I showed her the movie - Dolphin Tale - the night before. That is how she knew to look forward to this visit.
Right after breakfast, we took a shuttle from the Sandpearl Resort to the doors of the Aquarium. Many hotels provide tip based complimentary shuttle services to their guests. There is also a FREE (of course tip based) cab service that takes tourists allover the beach area.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium is not the same type of facility, as, for example Ripleys Aquarium. This place is a marine life rehabilitation centre first and aquarium second. Winter is the main attraction. Many amputees from allover the world come to visit her. The place really focuses on educating its visitors about how the film was made and displaying its artifacts. The exhibits are shown from two locations. The Aquarium has all the animals, including the fiesty bird Rufus.
The second location has all the movie artifacts including robotic dolphin and clothing worn by the actors. The second location also has a hurricane simulator. I will get into all these below.
As soon as we purchased our tickets, we walked in. Not really knowing where to go, we just wondered and walked into the hospital area. We saw the treatment room and aquariums for sick animals.
A friendly employee saw us wandering and browsing and told us to hurry to a dolphin show upstairs at one of the pools. So we did.
The dolphin show was with a fifteen year old dolphin named Nicholas. He was about 6 months old when him and his mother Noel washed on shore. His mother had pneumonia. Dolphins throw themselves out of the water onto the beach (beaching themselves) so they can lie down and rest when they are sick. This all happened near Christmas time; hence, the names Nicholas and Noel. Noel's pneumonia case was too advanced and she did not survive. Nicholas got pretty bag scars from the sunburn after being out of the water for too long, but he made it and has been living at the aquarium even since. He was separated from his mother too early and would not know how to care for himself in the ocean if released back.
The "show" was only about 10-15 minutes long. These were daily exercises to keep Nicholas lean and active. The trainers asked Nicholas to imitate their movements and provided snacks as a reward. He eats 17 lb of restaurant quality fish daily, so this is a way for him to burn those calories. In the wild, the dolphins burn their calories when they swim and hunt, something that is not possible in captivity.
My daughter enjoyed it and loved seeing the dolphin jump out of the water. I later learned that the pool where this was performed was built as a set for a scene in the movie and donated to the aquarium afterwards.
After we visited Nicholas, we went to see her majesty Winter just as she was getting her food and exercise. My daughter recognized her and curiously watched as the trainer exercised with Winter. It is really actually amazing to see this dolphin swim and do everything a healthy dolphin would do without the most important part - her tail!
I could watch winter exercise all day, but my daughter was hot and wanted to see something else. We moved on to see a blind sea turtle. My little one has a soft spot for turtles. This one can not see, so the staff hand feed him the lettuce. He is very cute. The only complaint I have is that the microphone of the person talking about him was not loud enough, so we could only hear every 3rd word.
Then, we saw two otters. We were fond of one and did not really care about the other. Please see the pictures below and guess which otter we liked better.
At this point, it is worth to mention that all those pool deck exhibits do not have any air conditioning. So it is really hot there in August. The education centre is a room just off the deck with air conditioning. It was nice to escape the heat for 15 minutes. My daughter enjoyed colouring marine themed pages. We watched a documentary video about the making of Winter's tail. We also left our mark on a whiteboard there.
The underwater view of the aquariums was great. We were able to see Winter and how she was swimming. She was very happy and even posed a little.
Watching sea turtles was my daughter's favourite. She would get very spooked when they swam close. It was very cute. The fishes took the second place, but the sharks did not get any of her attention at all.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium | Second Location | Dolphin Tale Exhibit
There are two ways to get from one exhibit location to the other: taking a Jolly Trolley or a ferry. I really wanted to take the ferry, but it was hot, we just missed it and would have to wait 30 minutes for the next one. There is also a couple of blocks uphill walk from the ferry to the museum, which is not something we wanted to do in the midst of the August heat. We took a Jolly Trolley and got dropped off right at the door.
It is really impossible to describe here everything that we saw and learned. The most memorable parts were the tide pool where my daughter refused to touch the sea slug. I was personally impressed by the robotic dolphin. It was nice. It was not busy. It was air conditioned.
The hurricane simulator was my personal favourite. I went 3 times in hopes of taking a perfect video. Some people (even adults) actually were too scared to go through the simulator. I have to admit. I was a pretty good simulator. The first time I went, I kind of just run through. The second time, I actually stopped and looked around. There were stuff to see.
The play area for kids was my daughter's favourite.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium | Food Situation
In conclusion, I would like to mention that the food situation at Clearwater Marine Aquarium is not great. There is a hot dog/pizza slice vendor by the portable washrooms at Aquarium location and there is a dessert place with stale donuts at the museum location. You probably will not die from hunger, but you can get something there if really hungry. However, being the snob I am, I would highly recommend packing lots of water and snack and possibly even lunch when you go. Also make sure you keep the hot weather in mind. Depending on the time of they year, a lunch may not survive the heat.
Below please see a gallery of additional images
Clearwater Aquarium | Gallery | Aquarium Location
Clearwater Aquarium | Gallery | Museum Location