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Monday, August 8, 2011

Story of World's first 'bionic' dolphin and his prosthetic tail is to become Hollywood blockbuster... and it's going to be in 3D

By Daily Mail Reporter

Watching her swim through the water you would think she's like any other dolphin, doing backflips and splashing around in her pool.

But this is Winter, the world's first bionic dolphin, whose heartwarming story has inspired a Hollywood blockbuster.

At just two months old she lost her mother and her tail in a crab trap.

Dolphin Tale: Winter's life will be documented in a new Hollywood movie which will be shown in the UK in October

Squealing in pain and struggling to stay alive she was eventually rescued, and now her inspiring story will be brought to life - with Winter taking the starring role.

Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jnr and Ashley Judd star alongside Winter and tell the story of how a special prosthetic fin was made so she could try to live a normal life.

Five years ago Jim Savage, played by Connick Jnr, left his home in the dark to spend the day fishing off the Florida coast.

While out he heard Winter's cries and spotted the distressed bottlenose dolphin.
Jim immediately began to free her and cut the mammal from several ropes before realising she couldn't escape because of a severe tail injury.

Desperate to help and spurred on by the high pitched noises she made, he rang the authorities who told him a marine biologist would be there as soon as possible.

After three hours of waiting he was joined by Theresa Mazza and together they sat with Winter for a further five hours while waiting for a specialist ambulance.

'When we first got close she was squealing in pain and freaking out,' said Theresa to the Sunday Mirror.

'But once I had her in the shallow water, she lay with her head in my lap. I kept splashing her and tried to shade her from the sun to stop her burning,' she said.

Eventually help arrived and Winter was taken to Clearwater Marine Aquarium where biologists made the shocking discovery that her injuries were so severe her tail would have to be amputated.

Worried about her survival trainers spent hours helping her in the water and eventually she defied all expectations, she began to swim and moved her stump from side to side instead of up and down.

But staff were worried this could damage her spine.

Speaking in 2008 aquarium director David Yates said: 'She had to learn how to swim without a tail, which no dolphin has ever done in captivity.

'We didn't know if she could do that. But vets feared her wagging might damage her spine.'

Their solution - to see if someone would be able to create an artificial tail - so they turned to Irish scientist Kevin Carroll and his business partner Dan Strzempka, who run a company making prosthetic limbs.

Mr Carroll, 53, said: 'I came straight down, saw Winter and felt really sorry for her. I said, "OK, we'll fit her a little tail. Not a big deal".

'Little did I know it was going to take a year and a half. With a person, when we fit a socket we have one long, solid bone. We don't have to have the socket moving in every direction.

'With a dolphin, it needs to move along with her full spine. But the months of work were worth it.'

After 18 months of painstaking work, £150,000 and nearly 50 prototypes, the pair managed to create a 30 inch silicone tail.

Winter, who only wears the limb for a few hours a day, wouldn't survive in the wild and constantly needs a replacement limb as she grows.

Staff at the aquarium also spend hours massaging her muscles every day to ensure she is comfortable.

Visitors have also been inspired by Winter and a number of servicemen who have been injured in Iraq and Afghanistan have benefited from the work done by Mr Carroll.

Because Winter's skin is so sensitive, a special gel had to be created so that the fake limb wouldn't irritate her.

The gel has been so successful it is now being used for humans too.

Brian Kolfage, who lost both legs and his right hand in Iraq, had such a severe reaction to the fake limbs he was unable to use them. But because of the breakthrough cream he is now able to walk again.

Young children visiting Winter are also inspired and find the courage to deal with their own deformities after meeting the inspirational dolphin.

Hannah Jenkins, 12, who was born without a left hand and forearm, said Winter helped her realise she too could survive.

Winter may never be the most elegant dolphin but, as she splashes about in the aquarium, it is safe to say that she probably doesn't care.

Dolphin Tale, directed by Charles Martin Smith, will be released in the UK in 3D this October.

A member of staff at the aquarium shows off the fake limb which moves along with Winter's spine



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