Winter: Prosthetic Tail Helps Baby Dolphin Swim Again

After Winter’s tail became tangled in a crab trap in 2005, two Hanger Clinic prosthetic experts stepped in to create a prosthetic tail, restoring her ability to swim. The real life survival story of Winter and her innovative prosthetic team, Area Clinic Manager Dan Strzempka and VP of Prosthetics Kevin Carroll, inspired the 2011 hit movie, “Dolphin Tale,” starring Morgan Freeman playing the role of Dan and Kevin.

In December 2005, a three-month-old bottlenose dolphin found herself tangled in the ropes of a crab trap near Cape Canaveral, Florida. Fortunately, fisherman Jim Savage heard her cry and was able to free the little dolphin from the rope that was wrapped tightly around her tail and mouth. After making some calls, a rescue team came to help and she was taken to the Florida Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA). The team at CMA worked night and day to help Winter recover from the injuries, and she began to make steady improvement. However, her tail was badly damaged and as the team feared, she lost her tail.

In 2006, Kevin Carroll, an expert prosthetist and Vice President of Lower Extremity Prosthetics at Hanger Clinic heard her story and offered to fit her with an artificial tail.

My heart went out to her, and I thought I could probably put a tail on her.

Kevin Carroll, Vice President of Lower Extremity Prosthetics at Hanger Clinic

Making Winter’s Prosthesis

It took about 18 months for Carroll and Hanger Clinic’s Sarasota Area Clinic Manager Dan Strzempka to develop the new tail for Winter. It was more difficult than Carroll originally anticipated. “When we fit a socket on a person, we have one long, solid bone, and the socket isn’t moving in every direction. With a dolphin, it needs to move along with her full spine.” One of the biggest challenges they faced was figuring out how to keep the tail on while she thrust 10 feet into the air.

The unique levels of R&D necessary to fit a prosthetic tail on a dolphin resulted in the development of a gel liner, called WintersGel, which is now benefiting human patients. Constructed of a very soft silicone-type material, WintersGel Prosthetic Liners provide a skin friendly, cushioning and more comfortable fit, especially for those with skin concerns. With the help of WintersGel, Winter’s new tail sticks to her body using suction, just like a surgical glove grips to a human hand, without irritating her delicate skin.

Winter’s Story Inspires Millions

Winter’s story has been featured on national television and new​s programs where she has touched the hearts of many. Her story of determination, encouragement and perseverance has been captured in the Scholastic book, Winter’s Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again and a Nintendo DS video game, also called Winter’s Tail. Her hit movie, “DolphinTale,” premiered in September 2011.

For more information on Winter, visit SeeWinter.com.

Editor’s Note: Remembering Winter the Dolphin

We were saddened to learn Winter the dolphin passed away on Thursday, November 11, 2021 at age 16 after battling a gastrointestinal abnormality. Below is a statement from Winter’s prosthetists Kevin Carroll and Dan Strzempka.

“Our hearts are broken to learn of the passing of our beloved Winter the dolphin. It has been our absolute honor working with Winter and her world-renowned animal care providers at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium since her rescue. Working with Winter forced us to think outside the box and come up with new approaches to how we think about prosthetic devices, so much so that we came up with a new material that we now call WintersGel that allowed Winter to use her prosthetic tail with comfort. Thanks to Winter, our amputee population now benefits from this innovative technology with thousands of people using it around the world. Winter has given back so much to us, especially when it comes to inspiring people of all ages with life-threatening illnesses, those who have experienced traumatic injuries, and even soldiers returning from war. Winter has been there for them, demonstrating her perseverance to overcome insurmountable odds, bringing hope to all those who encountered her. Winter has brought joy to the world and will be forever remembered for her spirited demeanor and her passion for people. Winter’s impact is significant and long-lasting, and she will always hold a special place in our hearts.”

Meet Winter’s Hanger Clinic Team

  • Kevin Carroll, MS, CP, FAAOP/D

    Vice President of Lower Extremity Prosthetics View Bio >
  • Dan Strzempka​, CPO

    Area Clinic Manager View Bio >

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