Research Initiatives

Research Initiatives

Marine life rescue and research team on boat

Research Initiatives


Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a leader in marine mammal and environmental research throughout Florida. We collaborate on scientific research to better understand animal behavior, illness, treatment and endangered species protection. Working with scientific and conservation partners, we protect marine animals and their habitats.

Here are a few ways CMA has contributed to groundbreaking research and conservation:

Prosthetic Technology

Our innovative care for Winter, the first dolphin fitted with a prosthetic tail, resulted in technology now used to help human patients. The gel sleeve that serves as a comfortable barrier between Winter’s skin and her prosthetic is now used by people with prosthetics every day.

Rescue Team Research

Every year, CMA’s Rescue Team joins forces with U.S. Geological Survey and other supporting organizations to conduct manatee health assessments in Crystal River. Our members work alongside veterinarians, researchers and biologists to aid with the medical assessment and tagging of these manatees. By conducting these assessments, we are able to promote research and conservation of this endangered species and their ecosystem.

The Rescue Team continues to contribute to the mark-recapture research study conducted by Dr. Ann Weaver and Mote Marine Laboratory by sharing photographs taken of stranded dolphins’ dorsal fins and flukes.

Wild Dolphin Dorsal ID Study

dolphin dorsal ID mapClearwater Marine Aquarium initiated the dolphin dorsal fin photo identification study in August 2013 to document the ecology of the bottlenose dolphin population of Clearwater Bay and Clearwater Harbor.  Opportunistic photos of bottlenose dolphins were taken during CMA’s Dolphin Adventure eco-boat tour using National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Dolphin SMART guidelines.

Like a human fingerprint, no two dorsal fins are exactly the same. Each dorsal fin has its own unique shape, height, thickness, markings and notches. Also, a dolphin’s dorsal fin acquires various scars and markings during the dolphin’s lifetime. Because of their unique nature, pictures of dorsal fins are used to identify wild dolphins. Individual identification of members during photo identification studies assist with the attainment of information on group structure, site fidelity, movement patterns and population size.

With the receipt of a General Authorization for Scientific Research permit from NOAA, CMA expanded its wild dolphin dorsal identification research program in August of 2016.  The Research Team currently surveys the intracoastal waters and three miles out in the Gulf of Mexico for three counties (Pinellas, Pasco, and a portion of Hernando). Future plans include expanding the survey area further out into the Gulf of Mexico.

Other research projects we are involved in:

Coral reef

Fish Population Comparison of the Clearwater Artificial Reef and a Natural Reef


Project Overview

This study will conduct monthly surveys of the resident fish species on the Clearwater artificial reef and a nearby natural reef.


To compare the fish populations in artificial and natural reefs found in the same vicinity.

Why It’s Important

This research will potentially support the development of more artificial reefs to complement natural reef ecosystems.

How to help

You can help support our ongoing research initiatives though donations.

Coral fish

Fish Populations in Clearwater Harbor: historical trends in abundance and diversity


Project Overview

The objective of this study is to establish trends in fish species diversity and abundance in Clearwater Harbor.

Why it’s Important

Monitoring fish populations and comparing to historical data will help determine the current health of local fish and determine whether there are patterns of growth or decline based on factors such as season.

How you can help

Data from our Sea Life Safari boat tours is used as part of this research. You can help gather data by joining one of these excursions, where you can learn more about local species and collect a sample of fish and sea life for research.


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