CLEARWATER, Fla. — No animal performances will be held at a redesigned aquatic center planned by the Florida aquarium featured in the "Dolphin Tale" movies.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium was the location of the 2011 "Dolphin Tale" movie, inspired by the real-life rescue and rehabilitation of Winter the dolphin, which was fitted with a prosthetic tail. A sequel scheduled to hit theaters this month focuses on another dolphin calf named Hope rescued in 2010.
Aquarium officials say rehabilitation and marine rescues, not entertainment, will be the focus of the new $68 million downtown aquatic center.
"We don't rescue them so we can have them to show to guests," aquarium CEO David Yates told The Tampa Tribune (http://bit.ly/1lE8Y44). "Our goal is to release them back into the wild."
The aquarium cut the price tag for the new center by nearly $100 million by dropping typical entertainment facilities such as a dolphin stadium.
Both Winter and Hope live at the aquarium, and their new tank will be three times the size of their current home. Guests will be able to view staff working with the dolphins and rescued sea turtles from platforms and walkways.
"We're not about the big shows and stuff like that," Yates said. "The whole essence of this thing is no matter what animals we have or don't have, the experience of getting behind the scenes of our work, that's going to be the draw long-term."
Some aquariums are emphasizing their conservation and rehabilitation facilities instead of their animal performances in the wake of the 2013 documentary "Blackfish," which was critical of SeaWorld's shows involving captive killer whales.
SeaWorld has announced plans for new larger tanks for its killer whales, but company officials said the decision had nothing to do with criticism following "Blackfish." Several entertainers pulled out of planned performances at SeaWorld parks since the film's release, and the company's shares recently have been trading near their lowest point since SeaWorld listed its stock on public markets last year.
The Virginia Aquarium is developing a new exhibit showing its stranded marine animal rescue program, and it's looking for ways to show guests how its staff care for injured animals.
The National Aquarium in Baltimore is considering scrapping its current dolphin exhibit and moving the animals into a sanctuary.
Yates said the Clearwater aquarium is not trying to make a statement about the practices of other marine parks.
"We're not trying to win a popularity contest. We're just trying to do what we do and do our mission," he said.
The Tampa Bay Times reports (http://bit.ly/1w0xw7V) that at a news conference last month, videotaped testimonials from "Dolphin Tale" stars attested to the importance of the aquarium's work.
"The whole mission is rescue, rehabilitation and release," actor Harry Connick Jr. said in one clip.