‘Dolphin’s Tale’ is a personal story for Eagle resident | VailDaily.com

‘Dolphin’s Tale’ is a personal story for Eagle resident

Pam Boydpboyd@eaglevalleyenterprise.comVAIL CO, Colorado

Alaina Sheehy has personally experienced a Dolphin Tale. The rest of us will have to catch the movie version.Sheehy, a graduate of Eagle Valley High School who received her bachelor’s degree in Wildlife and Fisheries from Texas A&M this year, interned at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium during the summer of 2010. While at Clearwater, she became acquainted with a famous bottlenose dolphin named Winter. Winter is the inspiration for the recently released film “Dolphin Tale” starring Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman.Back in 2005, three-month-old Winter was brought to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium after getting entangled in a crab trap. She eventually lost her tail as a result of the incident, but was fitted with a silicone and plastic prosthesis that enabled her to swim normally while the prosthesis was on, although she did not require the prosthesis to swim. Due to her sensitive skin she cannot wear the tail all the time so she only wears the prosthetic tail for physical therapy purposes. Winter has since become the most popular attraction at the aquarium and an inspiration to human amputees.Sheehy noted that after she lost her tail, Winter learned to swim using a side-to-side motion, but the dolphin was developing scoliosis as a result of repeatedly moving her spine in that fashion. “It was sort of a physical threat to her,” said Sheehy. That’s when the aquarium worked to fit her with a special prothesis so she could again swim in a more normal, dolphin fashion.Because of her physical condition, Winter was never a candidate for being released back into the wild, Sheehy noted. As a result, Winter has also had a lot of human contact, something the aquarium tries to minimize for dolphins slated for re-release.During her time with Winter, Sheehy said the movie was in pre-production so aquarium personnel worked to familiarize Winter with cameras and other movie equipment “so it wouldn’t be scary to her. It would just be part of her day.”Sheehy said Winter is a big screen natural. “Each dolphin has its own personality. Winter is a very energetic dolphin,” said Sheehy. “Anyone who has been around her will tell you she is tweeting all day long.”During her internship at the Clearwater aquarium, Sheehy had the opportunity to do interacting programs with Winter. She even introduced her family to the aquarium star. Sheehy said many people have been inspired by the dolphin’s story.”When they first brought her in, they didn’t think she would survive 24 hours, and after she lost her tail, they didn’t think she would survive that, either. She is definitely a fighter,” Sheehy said.Winter has also improved the lives of many amputees. Sheehy noted that because a dolphin’s skin is very sensitive, the doctors who fitted her prosthesis had to develop a fabric sock and some special balm to smooth over her torso before the tail could be fitted. The resulting product was named Winter’s gel. Today, that material is used to help fit human prosthetics.Sheehy has already seen the film “Dolphin’s Tale” and she highly recommends it. “The work the Clearwater people are doing for animals is absolutely incredible,” she said.Sheehy isn’t surprised that Winter is poised to be a movie star.”Winter is definitely an inspiration to a lot of people, especially people who have a disability or who have lost a limb. People come to the aquarium from all over the world just to see this one dolphin.”