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Winter, star of 'Dolphin Tale' movies, dies at 16

Earlier this week, tests showed Winter was likely fighting a gastrointestinal infection. Her condition worsened despite treatment, the aquarium said.
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Winter, the dolphin who starred in the "Dolphin Tale" films, died Thursday night following an illness, according to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Winter, 16, was being prepped for a procedure when her vital signs and behavior declined, the Florida aquarium wrote on its website. She died about 8 p.m. in the arms of her caretakers.

“While we are heartbroken by Winter’s death, we are comforted knowing that our team did everything possible to give her the best chance at survival. We worked with specialists and marine mammal experts from around the country to provide her with the best care available,” Dr. Shelly Marquardt said in the statement.

A memorial for Winter is scheduled for Nov. 20.

Dr. Buddy Powell, the president of Clearwater Marine Aquarium, said in a press conference Friday morning that a necropsy is being performed to determine the cause of death.

He hailed Winter as a "medical marvel," noting that "we want to make sure any time something like this occurs, that we’re able to gather together as much information as we possibly can to help us save future animals."

Aquarium staff first noticed something was wrong with Winter on Nov. 1 after she showed little interest in eating. Initial tests indicated she may have been fighting a gastrointestinal infection, the aquarium said.

In an update on her condition Wednesday, the aquarium said the animal's intestinal abnormalities had intensified despite treatment.

Senior marine mammal trainer Abby Stone works with Winter the dolphin at Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Fla., on Aug. 31, 2011.Chris O'Meara / AP file

Powell said Friday the gastrointestinal issue Winter had isn’t that uncommon in marine animals, and the dolphin had it several times in the past. "This time she didn’t respond to treatment," he said.

Winter, who starred in the 2011 film “Dolphin Tale” and the 2014 film “Dolphin Tale 2” alongside Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman, made headlines when she was rescued in 2005.

After being caught in a crab trap line, the dolphin lost her tail and was given a prosthetic to use instead.

"Many are inspired by her resiliency and this amazing response reminds us of how deeply she has affected millions, including so many on their own health journey," the aquarium said in a news release.

Winter the dolphin swims at Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Fla. on Aug. 31, 2011.Chris O'Meara / AP file

The aquarium said it will be closed to the public Friday to allow the staff to grieve and reopen Saturday.

"The CMA team expresses our deepest gratitude to the thousands of people from around the world who sent caring messages for Winter," the aquarium said Thursday. "She truly inspired hope and was loved by millions of people worldwide."