Just minutes away from white, sandy turf of Clearwater Beach sits Clearwater Marine Aquarium. CMA has dedicated itself to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of sick and injured marine animals since 1972. Recently, the facility went through some major changes.
See Winter’s New Home!
The largest expansion is a 1.5 million gallon dolphin habitat, the Ruth and J.O. Stone Dolphin Complex. The habitat, which was 14 years in the making, is home to the aquarium’s most famous residents, Winter and Hope, stars of Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Take 2. In 2005, Winter was rescued when she was found with her tail entangled in a crab trap. Her story made headlines when she received a prosthetic tail, which inspired the movies. Today, Winter and Hope, along with resident dolphins PJ, Nicholas, and Hemingway, share the new pool space. The larger habitat also allow room for future rescued animals. Nine viewing areas, including a 40-foot-long by 14-foot-tall window, are available for visitors to watch the dolphins. Brand-new third floor access also features additional views of the dolphin area and overlooks Clearwater Bay.
Visitors will also notice a more spacious area – a total new guest space of 103,000 square feet. A larger on-site parking garage now connects to the main entrance. The new Shark Bites Café offers an array of food choices along with beer and wine, which guests can enjoy indoors or outside on the Dolphin Terrace. A 7,200 square foot ballroom upstairs is the perfect setting for any occasion, and includes a terrace that overlooks Clearwater Bay. The fourth level of the aquarium is where visitors can experience traveling exhibits, such as the current installment, Legends From the Deep.
Discover What Lurks Beneath the Ocean’s Surface
Legends From the Deep will immerse guests in stories from the deep, dark, undersea world. A giant squid and a life-sized great white shark greet visitors upon entering. Immersive exhibits include artifacts and models that will educate guests on the history and the conservation of these special, unique species. Want to dive in and swim with world’s largest tiger sharks or go on a mythical adventure seeking the legendary giant squid? The 22-seat “Undersea Explorer Virtual Reality Theater” immersive experience features state-of-the-art, motion platform VR technology. VR dive goggles are sanitized in a UV light machine after each viewing.
Manatee Rescue Efforts
Clearwater Marine Aquarium assists in rescuing, releasing, and tracking wild manatees around the world. They are currently building Manatee Springs, a new manatee rehabilitation center on-site. The habitat’s purpose is to help with the influx of manatees in critical condition. Manatee Springs will take over the former Winter Zone and will be used to rehab manatees until they can be released. Although the new habitat is still in the works, those who want to help support their rescue efforts can learn more here.
Bigger space means bigger fun! CMA has several special events for all ages. Celebrate Halloween with your favorite sea animals during Halloweekends, take a yoga class with the dolphins, or ride out on a sunset cruise. Occasional beach and park clean-ups are also available for volunteers to assist with.
In addition to the new attractions, guests can also visit the otters, sea turtles, pelicans, stingrays, and sharks. The Rescue Deck on the top floor, which was built for rescued animals who need to be quarantined, is home to CMA’s first rough-toothed dolphins, Rudolph and Rex.
Visitors who are coming from out of town or locals who want a staycation can check out Winter the Dolphin’s Beach Club. This hotel is the first eco-friendly hotel on Clearwater Beach. Funds from each room night goes towards animal care, education, research, and conservation of marine animals.
To plan a visit, become a member, or to learn more about their programs, check out seewinter.com. CMA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.