Winter, the star of the critically acclaimed film Dolphin Tale, died Sunday after a long battle with bone cancer.
“We are honored to have been able to share the magical, inspiring journey with her family,” said Dolphins and Sharks at SeaWorld Entertainment CEO Jeff Springer. “For us, Winter was always our first focus and always will be, and we hope people will remember her for the dedication and love she showed with her personality, smile and her magic on screen.”
The 18-year-old dolphin, who had been battling bone cancer, was put on a feeding tube Jan. 19 to continue her condition and potentially get her first kidney transplant. At the time, Winter’s owners announced they could no longer wait for a transplant for the dolphin, who was in “constant pain.”
For her part, Winter often entertained those working at SeaWorld’s Aquatica theme park in Orlando during open hours. The dolphin, who was renowned for her hugs and kisses, would sometimes allow people inside her pool, allowing fans to watch her swim.
She also took part in a ceremony at Aquatica in November when SeaWorld officials gave Winter and her mom, Winter, to a Florida animal sanctuary.
Winter was born to trainer Donna Burke and her husband, Jim, at SeaWorld’s Shamu Stadium in 1995. Donna Burke said she and Winter loved the public and could easily fit into the confines of an aquarium.
Winter and Donna Burke shared two children and trained at the same time. Donna Burke’s husband, Jim, retired as a trainer at the Florida park in 2006, but Burke stayed on for a couple of years to help Winter with her recovery from an oil spill in 1989 that left her at risk of dying.
“If Donna came out of the tank and held her face in her hands, the dolphins would wail like the end of the world,” Donna Burke told The Associated Press in a 2010 interview. “It was heart-breaking to see her injury.”
Winter finished an impressive life: She was recognized as a triple world champion in two diving disciplines, took part in other theatrical performances and became part of movie “Dolphin Tale,” which helped raise awareness of the endangered species. She won an Emmy award for her role as the dolphin, Winter, in “Dolphin Tale,” released in 2012.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that “Dolphin Tale” included an act for the U.S. Marine Mammal Stranding Network’s Marine Mammal Ambassadors program, when the life story of Winter was read to the public.
In December, Melanie Kelley, an executive with the marine mammal network, said Winter had two connections to Tampa Bay, where the park is located.
“While the loss of any of the animals was heartbreaking, Winter’s story touched the hearts of all. Her own story about getting back on her feet after being damaged by an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico became a memorable part of the movie,” Kelley said at the time.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.