At only three months old, Winter was found stranded in Mosquito Lagoon, near Cape Canaveral, Florida, having become entangled in a crab trap line which cut off circulation to her tail flukes. After disentanglement, she was transported to CMA for treatment of her extensive injuries. However, despite exhaustive efforts to promote healing, her tail deteriorated and could not be saved.
Her story is unusual - most dolphins trapped in monofilament and crab trap lines do not survive. Despite overwhelming odds against survival, Winter's energy and ability to adapt to her new physical form surpassed expectations. She healed completely, adapted to a new swim pattern, and learned to eat fish on her own... about 12 pounds a day!
Winter’s was one of the most difficult cases for CMA. Her story is a bittersweet realization of the dangers faced by animals as a result of human activities in the wild, such as fishery interactions. Through these types of interactions, dolphins and other marine life often become susceptible to entanglement and digestion of fishing line or other gear that can cause them to become injured, ill, or potentially lead to their death. In order to mitigate these impacts and conserve these species, it is critical for us to do our part and keep our oceans clean, recycle, and promote laws and regulations that improve upon fishing practices. Together, we can make a difference!
Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, Inc., together with Dr. Mike Walsh, CMA’s marine mammal veterinarian of record and our world-class marine mammal trainers created a unique plan to attach a prosthetic tail to Winter.
Winter is missing her entire tail fluke and joint. Tail flukes are the powerhouse of the dolphin and are attached to the peduncle, the muscular part of the dolphin. To swim naturally, a dolphin moves the peduncle up and down and the tail flukes propel the dolphin forward.
Attaching a prosthetic tail with a complete fluke and joint onto a dolphin had never been done before. Over the course of several months, Winter learned the correct body position to be fitted for a stretchy, plastic sleeve, very like those used in human prosthetics.
When the sleeve is in place, we can put the prosthetic on top of it and attach the fluke to her peduncle.
Once the prosthetic is in place, we check to ensure a snug and comfortable fit. We then ask Winter to swim around the pool and re-check the fit of the tail before we start any workout.
Without her prosthetic, Winter compensates for the absence of flukes by utilizing her entire body to propel herself forward, moving side-to-side like a shark. The prosthetic is a cue or "discriminative stimulus", encouraging her to swim in a normal up-and-down fashion, working all muscles that surround the peduncle while still maintaining her ability to swim comfortably when the prosthetic is off.
Winter’s tail is constantly being researched and modified, which in turn continually teaches us about adapting prostheses to new and different challenges.