UPDATE: WSVN-TV reported the cause of death to be an infection in Winter’s respiratory system, a condition that was identified during an autopsy.
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Winter, the dolphin whose down-to-earth humor and free spirit charmed audiences around the world, has died, the Winter Springs-based SeaWorld Orlando’s head of animal training announced Thursday.
“We loved her so much. She was our child,” SeaWorld Orlando trainer Eric Baugh told WESH-TV in Orlando.
SeaWorld released a statement saying the 46-year-old female dolphin died Thursday morning. “We are deeply saddened by the loss of our friend and peer, Winter,” the statement said.
Winter was the star of the 2013 and 2015 film “Dolphin Tale,” starring Morgan Freeman and Harry Connick Jr. She and her calf, Eric the Killer Whale, made news when they made their first public appearance in March 2015 in support of a youth science project.
“Winter was incredibly loyal to her animal care team for many years, always spending time with them and giving them hugs, kisses and high-fives when they walked by,” the SeaWorld statement said.
Winter took her last moments resting on the treadmill of the Shamu Stadium pool and died peacefully, SeaWorld said.
There will be a private memorial service for her next week, and SeaWorld is planning a funeral in Florida.
The 5,000-pound, 19-foot-long dolphin took in more than 300,000 visitors over the past year, the Orlando Sentinel reported.