When I hear the word aquarium it makes me think of a place with pool after pool of fish to look at but Clearwater marine aquarium is different to any other we have been to!
We were given a tour of Clearwater aquarium by Eileen Elphick, the master volunteer. Eileen heads up a team of 700 volunteers and is in charge of the inspiration team. She works with VIP visits to the aquarium and when I say VIP’s I mean those that deserve the experience of meeting the dolphins etc such as children and adults with terminal illnesses, the military, the wounded and others. Eileen knows her stuff and the tour she gave us was so informative and interesting.
Eileen and all the staff so obviously love being at Clearwater aquarium but who wouldn’t love spending their days at a place inspiring and helping humans whilst also caring for and helping marine life.
Clearwater aquarium isn’t just an exhibition of marine animals, it is an animal rescue facility, an animal hospital and rehabilitation center. I asked how many animals are rehabilitated back into the wild and the answer was high at 90%. This is the main aim however in some circumstances, if the animals are unreleasable for example if their injuries or the fact they were orphaned too young would endanger them if they were released, then they are cared for at the aquarium or other homes such as nearby Sea World.
We were shown the hospital. There is a full surgical room for triage and care of any marine animals that end up at the aquarium. They are assessed and given the care they need. Be it a diseased turtle or a fish hook that has been swallowed, the aquarium staff and volunteers will work round the clock to save them all, sometimes undergoing hours of complicated surgery.
The animals are kept away from human contact as much as possible to make releasing them back into the wild more of a possibility. If they become too used to seeing humans then this can be a danger to them when they are released into the wild. For this reason poorly animals that will be released are kept in pools away from the public. You can however see the pools through one way windows.
We were taken into the kitchen where each animals food is prepared. Their individual daily diets are determined by the vet and written on charts on the wall. Every single fish that is fed to the animals is checked over to make sure it is fit to feed to them.
We also saw the dive team’s room with all the equipment they use. We learnt that they are not only in charge of cleaning the inside of the pools but also going out to more difficult rescues of injured marine animals of all sizes.
The next part of our tour took us to see some of the aquariums residents. The first being the one that put Clearwater aquarium on the map , Winter the dolphin, star of the Dolphin Tale movies which were filmed at the aquarium. Winter was rescued at 2 months old after she became entangled in a crab trap line. She was treated at Clearwater aquarium and against all odds survived. However, as a result of her injuries, Winter lost her tail. She has a prosthetic tail which is worn at different times, again determined by the vet and is now a happy dolphin enjoying life at the aquarium.
We also met Winters friend Hope who the kids enjoyed interacting with. Hope went to live at Clearwater aquarium when orphaned as a two to three month old baby. Dolphins need their mums until they are a year old to survive. If they are orphaned before this they won’t survive in the wild. Another dolphin, Nicholas can be seen outside and, being male, prefers to be apart from the others.
I was really interested to learn that dolphins only half sleep. One half of their brain is always awake and if they are asleep you can tell which half of their brain is awake by which eye is open. They do this to enable them to surface for air and to watch out for predators. The dolphins have multiple pools so they can choose where to be and how much they want to see the public.
After we met the dolphins, we got to see the great white pelicans, including Ricky who starred as Rufus in Dolphin Tales.
We then went in the room containing a film set from Dolphin Tales. The room has been left for visitors of the aquarium to see. We sat at the desk for a photo which was exciting. The office is exactly as it was during the filming and the X-rays on the wall are real X-rays of Winter the dolphins spine.
We then went downstairs to see the sharks which ended up at Clearwater aquarium after the their owner realised they were too big to keep as pets! We also saw the impressive stingrays.
The aquarium has a theatre with the films playing, demonstrations going on throughout the day, a fishing net for kids to clamber through, glitter tattoos, sea life exhibits that you can touch and eve educational boat trips. There is also a cafe and a gift shop selling a variety of souvenirs and T-Shirts.
Everywhere you go in the aquarium there is information about the animals, the work of the aquarium and the films filmed there.
We had such a good afternoon looking round the aquarium. I was so impressed with the work they do, rescuing and taking in marine animals, treating and caring for them, rehabilitating those they can into the wild and housing and caring for marine life which cant be released. We were guests of Clearwater aquarium for this visit and would like to thank them for having us and especially Eileen for giving us such an interesting tour.
Taking an autistic child to Clearwater aquarium?
The aquarium is an inspirational place for many with all kinds of disabilities. A place of hope and many are inspired by the animals stories.
Winter the dolphin is especially inspirational, having gone through what she did to come out the other side. She is noticeably a bit different to other dolphins but still either swimming around happily with hope or chilling on her own watching what goes on.
If your child likes animals, from looking at them and interacting with them to learning about them then this is a great place to visit.
Everyone is welcome at the aquarium and made to feel welcome.
The aquarium is well lit from natural light with no loud music.
There were a lot of visitors there but it didn’t ever seem crowded.
My kids really liked their visit!
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