The Dolphin that Swims like a Shark
Photo/Text by Donna Malloy
Assisted by Clearwater Marine Aquarium staff, Kevin Carrol and Dan Strezempka, of Hanger Prosthetic & Orthotic, measure 241 lb. "Winter", an injured Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, for her new prosthetic tail.
Losing her freedom via a crab trap line near Cape Canaveral, "Winter," a female Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, was rescued in the" winter" of 2005 minus her tail and two vertebrae. She was transported to Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) by Harbor Branch Oceanographic institute and the Hubbs Institute of Orlando, dehydrated and thin. Although Winter has regained her strength, "eating up to twelve pounds of herring and capelin daily," according to Abby Stone, Head Trainer for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA), her permanent injuries will prevent her from ever being released back into the wild.
Dolphins swim by manipulating their tail in an up-and-down motion. Because she does not have a tail, Winter has learned to compensate by swinging her tail from side-to-side, similar to a shark. But this unnatural side-to-side motion has had damaging physical consequences; Winter has developed scoliosis. As a result of Winter's impairment, CMA decided to gather a consortium of industry specialists, experts in the fields of prosthetics and dolphin care, to develop a prosthetic tail for Winter.
Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotic, Inc., a leading human prosthetics company, is applying the same technology used on human beings to correct Winter's scoliosis and enable her to swim like a dolphin. Because Winter is still growing, every three months she must be fitted with a new prosthetic tail. Hanger's Kevin Carroll, Certified Prosthetist, and Dan Strezempka, Prosthetic Orthotist, spearhead Winter's state-of-the-art prosthetic research. Carroll and Strezempka have been developing leading edge prosthetics for Winter for the last several years, on volunteer time. Winter's most recent prosthetic tail, which will be attached to her peduncle (the area between the dorsal fin and the fluke) sometime next month, will "store energy," according to Strezempka; similar to a human prosthetic.
Much like the space program enhanced our lives with the development of Velcro; the development of prosthetics is also making productive strides for mankind. According to Carroll, a wheelchair bound soldier, returning from Iraq, was "touched by Winter" and decided to contact Hanger for the three prosthesis he needed: one for his injured arm and one for each of his partially amputated legs.
After meeting with the Hanger team, the wounded soldier was fitted for his three prosthesis and the soft gel liner, which is compatible with human as well as dolphin skin. The liner provides extra padding before attaching the prosthesis to a bare limb. "For the first time in two years, that soldier is now actively walking" stated Carroll. The soldier learned about Winter after watching her on CMA's live web-cam at: www.SeeWinter.com.
For over thirty years now, CMA has remained true to its vision to be "heavily and uniquely involved in active rescue, rehabilitation, and release of injured and stranded marine life." As a non-profit, working aquarium, CMA depends heavily on donations and their 500 dedicated volunteers who assist in the protection of Florida's fragile marine environment and marine animals, such as Winter. CMA's Marine Animal Stranding Team is on call 24 hours a day to respond to injured, sick or deceased whales, dolphins, sea turtles and otters.
CMA's Education Programs teach school children about Florida's fragile marine community and provide "hands-on" learning opportunities through marine biology field trips and summer camp programs. Also, a special on-water excursion enables vacationing families, individuals and groups to take part in ongoing scientific research projects as well as developing an appreciation for Clearwater Bay's marine environment.
Overall, CMA's goal is "to teach future generations to enjoy the splendor of the oceans and to protect the creatures that make life in Florida a wondrous experience." CMA is open seven days a week. They are located at 249 Windward Passage, Clearwater Beach, FL. 33767. Call 727.441.1790 for further information.
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