More so than any other post that I have written thus far, I feel the overwhelming responsibility of ensuring I get the post right because the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is so much more than just another tourist attraction. As a lifelong Florida resident and as someone who has truly enjoyed my time near the ocean, I found myself overcome with a sense of just how important the work being done at this marine rescue and rehabilitation center really is to the central west coast of Florida.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium gained some notoriety from the motion pictures Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2. Both movies portrayed the rescue and rehabilitation of 2 now-famous dolphins, Winter and Hope. However, there are several other rescued and rehabilitated residents at this facility living a good and long life that they otherwise would not have had if it was not for the tireless efforts of the employees and volunteers at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
One of the main reasons I truly want to get this post right is because of a couple of reviews I read on Trip Advisor the day before my visit. A couple of people had posted that they whizzed through the facility in less than an hour and didn’t find much interesting or entertaining. These comments were made by people that obviously don’t get it, and it is upsetting to me that they would post reviews like that, although I guess everyone is entitled to their opinion. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a nonprofit working animal hospital whose mission is to save injured marine animals and birds and to return as many as possible back into the wild. To truly appreciate and enjoy the facility, you have to be willing to take part in your own experience and take the time to read the information provided to you on the displays and exhibits. You also have to attend the presentations and demonstrations (and there are many throughout the day) given by the volunteers and staff. If you truly take the time to understand the purpose of the facility and to take in all the exhibits and presentations, then you will find that you do indeed need several hours to appreciate all that the Clearwater Aquarium has to offer ultimately.
In the presentations, staff members tell the sometimes heartbreaking stories of how each of the permanent residents were rescued and came to be there, and you will also hear the remarkable and joyful stories of their recovery and rehabilitation. This is not only a place to view marine life but a place to learn how we as individuals can take a more active part in protecting our environment. It is also a place where we can learn the sometimes painful lesson in what can happen when people are careless.
Many of the animals that are at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium were found by central west coast Florida residents, fishermen, or park rangers. When an injured animal is found, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium rescue team responds, and once the injured animal arrives at the facility, a team of marine biologists and veterinarians assess the extent of the injury and creates a plan with the ultimate goal being to return the animal back into the wild. Sadly sometimes the injuries are too severe, and an animal is not able to be released back into the wild; and when this is the case, the animal becomes a permanent resident and is cared for by the dedicated staff and volunteers.
Winter and Hope, the two bottled nosed dolphins made famous by the 2 Hollywood productions, are only 2 of the 4 dolphins that currently have permanent residence at the Clearewater Marine Aquarium. The other 2 are named Pj and Nicholas, and although they do not have the fame of Winter and Hope, they too have inspirational stories of survival and resilience, as do the resident otters, sea turtles, pelicans, and sharks.
The staff and volunteers I encountered are truly passionate about their jobs, and I found them extremely eager and delighted to answer visitors’ questions. Their mission statement states that they are dedicated to inspiring guests to appreciate the marine environment and to promote conservation and stewardship. From what I observed during my visit, each and every staff member was being true to that mission and going beyond it.
One of the areas I found fascinating was the observation hall through the hospital, where you can see how the current patients came to be there and the progress of their recovery. This area is staffed with volunteers again eager to educate visitors and to answer questions.
John and I took our grandchildren, ages 4 and 14, with us on our visit, and while my 4-year-old grandson was not completely entertained the whole time due to a shorter attention span, we did find it helpful to watch one of the Dolphin Tale movies the night before. By doing this, it created a sense of excitement for him, and it greatly enhanced the experience for all of us. My fourteen-year-old granddaughter fell in love with the otters, and understandably so because they are adorable. A visit to the aquarium provides many opportunities to introduce and teach children about the importance of conservation and preserving our environment.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is currently undergoing expansion in which the size of the dolphin habitat will triple the current size and expand to other areas to accommodate for the care of more animals, which is good news for the animals in need of rescue and visitors alike. But I should tell you that there are areas of construction; however, it did not deter from the quality of our experience at all.
General admission to the aquarium is 26.95, kids 3-12 is 21.95, and seniors 60+ is 24.95. ( you can find discount coupons to the aquarium in many of the local publications) Parking in the parking garage is an additional $12. In addition to general admission, you can also purchase packages for one of the offered eco boat tours in which visitors can get a narrated tour with a first-hand look at Florida’s native wildlife in their natural environment.
I want to mention again that the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a nonprofit organization and depends on the support of its sponsors and visitors. So if in the area or if you are planning a trip to the Tampa Bay area, I urge you to consider a visit with Winter, Hope, and the rest of their friends at The Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
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