Volunteering at Clearwater Marine Aquarium During Movie Filming
I volunteered at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) from 2009- 2016. I was part of the turtle volunteer team, which takes care of CMA’s sea turtles, sharks, and stingrays.
I volunteered throughout the filming of both movies. When I first heard about the movie plans, I was concerned the film wouldn’t reflect the true rescue/rehabilitate/release mission of the aquarium. The filming experience and Dolphin Tale Movie exceeded my expectations.
I am saddened by Winters’s unexpected passing. Her death has brought back many happy memories from my time as a volunteer at CMA. As a tribute to Winter, I am sharing my favorite memories from the filming of Dolphin Tale.
11 Fun Dolphin Tale “Behind The Scenes” Movie Details You Don’t Know
1. The Fish Milkshake
In Dolphin Tale, Sawyer and Hazel try to stop an exploding blender of fish. This scene wasn’t in the original script. The production crew observed the turtle volunteer team preparing the daily fish gruel and added it to the movie. Fish gruel is a shake of blended fish mixed with a vitamin drink that is used to feed injured Sea Turtles that cannot eat on their own.
2. Pelican Escape
One of the two, African white pelicans that played Rufus in the film flew off with a group of our Florida brown pelicans during a weekend training session. The trainers got in the car, followed, and tracked down the bird. They were very relieved when they got back to the aquarium with the pelican.
3. Strange Stingray’s
One of the strangest things that happened during filming was the change in the behavior of the stingrays. The aquarium closed to the public for two months during the filming of the first movie and the stingrays became agitated. CMA sent out an email asking volunteers to come in and pet the stingrays. They missed their public!!!
4. Happy Houseboat
The houseboat that Hazel and her family live on in the movie wasn’t scheduled to be in so many movie scenes. The director liked the finished boat so much that it was used in more scenes than originally planned.
5. Two Male Dolphins = One Female
One of the female dolphin characters in the movie was played by our two male dolphins, Indy and Nicholas.
6. Homeless Man Or Famous Actor?
Early on in the filming of the movie, I showed up at the aquarium for my regular volunteer shift and everyone was talking Kris Kristofferson (Hazels Grandfather). The first time he showed up at CMA, very early in the morning, security didn’t know who he was and wouldn’t let him in.
7. Yes, A Recycled Wastewater Treatment Plant
Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a converted wastewater treatment plant. I overheard a lot of questions/complaints about this because the aquarium didn’t look exactly the same as the one in the movie. Eventually, these sets and props from the film were installed in another building and opened to the public. Additionally, the original building has been expanded with additions and upgrades in the last ten years since the movie was released.
8. Where is Winters Prostetic Tail?
Visitors to CMA are always surprised to learn that Winter didn’t always wear her prosthetic tail. The prosthetic tail is only used for physical therapy a few times a week. Plus, every time she grew a new tail was made for her. CMA has an entire collection of her prosthetic tails.
9. Fake Cameras
Fake cameras were used in and around the dolphin pools for months before filming began. The dolphins got comfortable with movie equipment being around them before movie production started.
10. Animal Rights
The dolphins at the aquarium were never “forced” to film. The CMA dolphin trainers were always on set during movie production. They stopped filming if any of the dolphins didn’t want to participate in that day’s scheduled scene.
11. True Inspiration
I witnessed so many inspirational happenings at CMA during my time as a volunteer. However one woman’s story I will never forget. I met her during filming. She lost her leg in combat and told me that she had been suffering from depression. She began visiting CMA and sitting by Winter’s tank. Winter inspired her and helped her through her depression. This woman ended up starting her own company, frequently worked with CMA, and was an extra in the movie.
In Conclusion, The Importance of Volunteers at CMA
Before Dolphin Tale was released, 90% of the aquarium staff were volunteers or interns. The percentage is still high, but due to the increased volume of visitors as a result of Dolphin Tale, CMA has added more staff out of necessity. Volunteers commit to a minimum of 4 hours a week cleaning, preparing food, and medication for the animals.
Everyone at CMA is personally invested in the mission of the aquarium and providing a high standard of care for all the animals. I loved my time as a volunteer, and surprisingly I loved being a part of the filming. I even made it into one of the final crowd scenes in the movie – be sure to look for me.
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