More than an Aquarium: How to Visit Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Meet Rescued Animals
Made famous by the Dolphin Tale movies, Clearwater Marine Aquarium is all about rescue, rehab and release. All of the animals on public display are rescues that couldn't survive on their own in the wild. In addition to its famous dolphin residents, you'll also find sea turtles, pelicans, otters, sharks, stingrays and more. Injured animals are treated on-site in the world-class marine hospital. Yes, it's an aquarium, but it's also so much more!
Home of Winter and Hope
Winter and Hope, stars of Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2 movies, are undoubtedly the most famous resident animals at the aquarium. Winter was rescued in 2005 after losing her tail in a crab trap.. The aquarium helped develop a prosthetic tail, and she adapted to her new form and made a full recovery. Winter's story eventually became the premise for the 2011 film Dolphin Tale. Hope, the star of Dolphin Tale 2, was found 5 years later in the same spot as Winter. Both have inspired millions around the world.
A new home for Winter, Hope and the other resident dolphins was completed in 2020. The Ruth and J.O. Stone Dolphin Complex has five pools and nine viewing windows and holds 1.5 million gallons of filtered water from Clearwater Bay.
Meet Rescued Animals
The animals at Clearwater Marine Aquarium have conditions that require them to live at CMA full time, which means you can visit them any time of year.
- Dolphin Terrace is currently home to CMA's first rough-toothed dolphins, Rudolph and Rex. This area, also known as the Stranding Deck, was built as a place to accept newly rescued animals for immediate care and quarantine them from the resident animals.
- The Aquaponics exhibit grows lettuce without the use of soil, assisted by a pool of tilapia. This sustainable lettuce is used to feed the aquarium's rescued sea turtles.
- The Atlantis Theater presents special screenings, events and exhibits seasonally. Interactive presentations include Slime Time With Professor Peduncle and CMA Family Feud.
- Otter Oasis is home to North American river otters Walle and Boomer.
- Rufus Beach is the aviary and home to the resident great white pelicans. Ricky, who played the part of "Rufus" in Dolphin Tale, can be found here along with three other pelicans.
- Stingray Beach is home to cownose stingrays. This shallow pool gives you the opportunity to hand-feed our stingrays. During stingray presentations, you'll learn the techniques to use if you should encounter a stingray in the wild.
A Working Animal Hospital
Clearwater Marine Aquarium exists to rehabilitate animals from sickness or injury and release them back into their natural habitats whenever possible. Most cannot be released due to a variety of reasons, so you'll see them in permanent habitats and learn their rescue stories.You'll also see a number of animals currently undergoing rehabilitation in the working animal hospital. Aquarium staff and volunteers give presentations and talks throughout the day at various habitats and exhibits.
At the Surgical Suite, you'll have the opportunity to witness the work of medical professionals. Everything from routine physicals of resident otters to emergency surgeries on injured sea turtles takes place right here.
The aquarium is located minutes away from Clearwater Beach on Florida's Gulf Coast, a 90-minute drive west from Orlando. It's an indoor and outdoor facility with air-conditioned areas inside and open-air sections outside. Enjoy sunshine and views of Clearwater Bay from the harborview deck and stranding deck.
Hours & Parking
Hours vary by season and the aquarium is generally open later on Fridays and Saturdays. It is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Hours are subject to change. Garage parking is available and seasonal rates apply. Check out the CityPASS travel guide for up-to-date information.
Tickets & Visiting the Aquarium
Visits to the aquarium, and in turn ticket sales, help fund the work of the aquarium and its rescue and rehab efforts. There are several ways to visit the aquarium, including daily admission, a membership or with Tampa Bay CityPASS. Children 2 and under are free. CityPASS includes admission to the aquarium, plus 4 other top attractions at a savings. Reservations may be required.
Header image courtesy of Clearwater Marine Aquarium