11 May 2011

New developments that started when a dolphin flapped into my life

I have been spending a lot of time lately at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. As I've mentioned here before, I've been making a pretty radical career transition over the last few months and as a result my design blog has been suffering mightily. It'll be back with a vengeance shortly I promise. In the meantime however, I'm doing social media consulting full-time at an ad agency.

Anyhow, my work at the agency has brought me into really close contact with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, or CMA. The CMA is a wildlife rescue organization, but that just scratches the surface of what they do. As people, they're a rag tag band of true believers who rescue, rehabilitate and release injured and distressed dolphins, sea turtles and river otters. The only animals that end up in permanent residence are animals that are too damaged to return to the wild.

The CMA operates in a converted sewage plant on the shores of Clearwater Harbor. They do the work they do on a shoe string budget and one of the ways they raise money is they open their facility to the public for tours. Do not expect Sea World at the CMA. It's a working animal hospital and the animals don't perform. A "dolphin show" at CMA consists of watching a veterinary exam but that's what makes it such an incredible place.

The CMA has four resident dolphins, Nicholas, Panama, Hope and Winter. All of these animals are incapable of life on their own in the wild and each has a fascinating story. Of all of them, Winter's story is probably the most compelling. If you don't know her story now give it a few months because by July, it will be unavoidable. Warner Brother's is distributing a film that opens in September called Dolphin Tale that's all about her. The media barrage starts Memorial Day. Here's the trailer.

When she was around a month old, the dolphin now called Winter was orphaned and in her confusion, got entangled in the anchor line of a crab trap. As she fought the rope, she entangled herself more and ended up being beached on the east coast of Florida. She was found by a wildlife organization over there and brought to the CMA and no one could believe she was still alive.

The vets at CMA amputated what was left of her tail and despite her disability, she showed a remarkable will to live. After a few months, the staff of the CMA heard from a prosthetic manufacturer who wanted to help. For the first time ever, a marine mammal was successfully fitted with a prosthetic tail.

In the course of developing a new tail for Winter, Hanger Prosthetics developed a host of new technologies that they applied to human prosthetics. In helping this injured dolphin Hanger has enhanced the lives of countless human beings.

It doesn't stop with prosthetic development. the CMA runs programs for autistic kids and in the course of extended interactions with Winter, Panama, Nicholas and Hope, these kids break through the haze and reconnect with their families. They have a program for amputees and another one for veterans. In the course of these interactions, these people get their lives back.

Stories such as this one:
Three-year-old Sophie who lives in McKinney,Texas has a lot in common with Winter … both girls are the same age and they both have prosthetics. Winter has a prosthetic tail and Sophie has a prosthetic leg. Sophie’s leg was amputated when she was an infant because of a cancerous growth in it. Mom, Tracy, shares, “We wanted Sophie to get to see that she’s not alone and there are others like her. Winter has a magic fin, just like Sophie has a magic leg.”
warm my heart in ways I didn't know were possible.

I met Winter for the first time a month ago at a marketing meeting with the CMA's CEO as we sought out ways to co-market my current client with the CMA. I find myself making excuses to have more meetings with the CMA so I can hang out with this creature.

I took this photo of her on Monday afternoon when she was making eyes at me. I have witnesses so I know I'm not imagining the fact that she recognizes me now and knows who I am.

When she sees me now she stops what she's doing, stares and whistles through her blow hole.

The CMA is about to break ground on a new facility in anticipation of the publicity crush that's going to surround the release of this movie in September.

Their new building is spectacular and the money they'll raise in the next year is going to allow them to help injured animals (and injured people) in ways they can't now and it's great to see an organization such as this one succeed as spectacularly as their about to.

To that end and as of another meeting with them yesterday, I've agreed to manage their social media efforts from this point forward. This is going to be a great ride and as a bonus, I get to keep hanging out with Winter, Panama, Hope and Nicholas, not to mention the turtles and otters. But more than even that, I'll be documenting the lives that get changed as a result of this amazing organization.

I say all the time that I'm the most fortunate man alive and opportunities like this back up that claim. Never in a million years would I have guessed three-and-a-half years when I started a kitchen design blog that it would lead to the life I lead today.

If you'd like to learn more about the work of the CMA, visit their website. And I'll be back to writing about design again shortly, I promise.


  1. For a brief time in my life, I sold exercise bikes to paralyzed people (true!) At first blush, most people think that folks in a wheelchair just can't walk, but it gets a whole lot more complicated than that. This company was also part of an artificial knee plant that fitted into prothetic legs.. and THAT was complicated physics. In the end, each technology helped each other develop better.

    Anyway without getting all kumbaya on you, we sometimes forget that we are all connected to each other in some way on this rock we call Earth, even humans to dolphins. We just need to put aside out hubris and open our minds just a little more to wanting to become a meaningful part of that tapestry of life.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  2. My daughter has started changing her tune from when she grows up she wants to be an architect like her Dad to being a dolphin trainer and rescue specialist. I have no doubt that we will see this movie and that it will just support and build upon the empathy she has for these animals.

    At least I can still be the cool dad when I tell her about it and my friend Paul who can personally call Winter a friend.

    Thanks for making me all weepy eyed up her at the office ("I'm not crying, I scratched my eyeball")

  3. Way to pluck my heartstrings this early morning!

  4. You are soooooo lucky to be a part of the wonderful work that CMA does :-) When I saw the story about Winter and her prosthetic tail on TV a while back, it was so heartwarming to see so many people working so hard to help Winter. They've really given her a whole new life, and as you said, Winter is now helping to give lots of people new lives too :-)

    It's so cool that you're part of the CMA team now :-) Work hard, have fun, and keep telling us all about it :-)

  5. Well, I am at least one credible witness to the love fest between Paul & Winter. When Paul offered to introduce me to Winter and CMA I extended my stay in St. Pete for an extra day. This was an opportunity I was not going to miss. Paul treated me to a back Stage Tour that was fascinating. We visited all the animals however before leaving we had to say our good byes to Winter. She was just having a lazy swim, but when she caught sight of Paul two things happened. She started whistling in recognition and making eye contact. If this had happened only once I'd say Paul was delusional. However this amazing creature kept staring right at him, adjusting her position so she could keep him in view. He wasn't holding a fish, there was no ulterior motive, she just wanted to greet her new friend Paul. The life you are leading Paul, is a life well deserved.

  6. Wow, what a story. On several levels. It’s the kind of writing I would love to do myself, and who knows, perhaps one day I will be able to do something like that. I cannot tell you what a boost it was to me to have spent some time with you in Toronto, Paul. I have been running on high ever since, simply because of the many possibilities you showed were there.

    As for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, that is EXACTLY the kind of organization I would want to be part of. Or at a minimum, to have in San Diego’s Mission Bay instead of Sea World. We went there a few times, and I must say I enjoyed the basic aquariums and so forth, but there doesn’t appear to be enough “entertainment value” in that sort of thing, and Sea World has long used Orcas to draw people in. The first time we saw the Shamu Show some thirty years ago we sat near the top of the stadium. Within moments after the show began I had tears rolling down my cheeks, in part at the sheer emotion of being able to see so magnificent an animal, in larger part because they had reduced this glorious feat of Nature to little more than a trained sea lion. By the end of the show, I was shaking.

    We visited Sea World another time or two—the grounds are fabulously beautiful—but I wouldn’t go to the Shamu Show. I saw it a second time when we took our seven year old nephew. It had the same effect on me, and I vowed then that I would never return to Sea World, even though it seems to be the thing to do with out-of-town guests who visit San Diego. From that day to this, though, I tell them, “Sea World’s near Mission Bay, big tower, you can’t miss it. See you when you get back.”

    Sea World tells one and all about their animal rescue mission, and they have done a fair amount of work in this area, but really it’s just a ploy to help combat the bad publicity they get whenever one of those orcas does what orcas do in the wild—raise hell. I do feel for the families involved in the fatal and near fatal incidents that have occurred between orca and Sea World trainer, but to tell you the truth, I’ve always rooted for the orca!

  7. Awesome story, Paul- thanks for sharing!

  8. Thanks gang, this is the start of what's going to be a pretty wild ride.

  9. i am in awe, paul. give winter a fish for me, and enjoy the hell out of your new adventure!

  10. This is wonderful. How amazing to do work that is so meaningful.

  11. Paul - I am so excited you are involved with this. Not only are my kids dolphin junkies, they loved Winter's story when we read about her in a book. I can't believe you know this dolphin personally!

    The trailer made me weepy, and I don't know if my kids will be able to handle the movie, but I love reading about this and hope you'll continue to update.

  12. This is great! Off I go to visit as soon as I can.

  13. Wow. Bloggers outage this week removed all of the comments that followed this post...

    Anyway, Erika your kids will love this movie. I haven't seen the whole thing yet but rest assured that this is the first family-friendly movie out of Warner Brothers in ages.

    Norine: Are you in the area? If so then go!

  14. What a heart-warming story and to think the lead starlet has 'eyes for YOU' Paul. -Brenda-

  15. Thanks Brenda! How've you been?

  16. Well, you know that I'm a pretty big anti-captivity person when it comes to marine mammals, but I think that this facility does a lot of great stuff. Sadly enough, some animals just cannot survive on their own. (and worse, it's often due to people's crap in the ocean causing problems). Whereas whale shows are just so bloody tragic, this type of rehab facility for animals is really fabulous. I'm glad to hear that you're enjoying the company of your new friends ;)


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