Winter the Dolphin of 'Dolphin Tale' Fame Dead at 16 After Intestinal Infection

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium confirmed Winter's death and shared that they are "devastated" by her passing

Winter the dolphin
Photo: Arc Prods/Kobal/Shutterstock

Winter, a dolphin whose life story inspired the 2011 film Dolphin Tale, has died.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium — Winter's Florida home for the past 16 years — confirmed her death on their website Thursday.

"With heavy hearts, Clearwater Marine Aquarium announced tonight that Winter the Dolphin died at approximately 8 p.m. as animal care experts from around the country worked to treat her gastrointestinal abnormality," they shared. "The CMA family is devastated."

Winter had been battling a gastrointestinal infection at the time of her death and was in critical condition earlier this week. Aquarium board chairperson Paul Auslander told the Tampa Bay Times that Winter was being prepped for a procedure to clear an intestinal blockage when she died at about 7:45 p.m. local time. She was 16.

While a necropsy will be performed on the dolphin to determine her official cause of death, Auslander told the Tampa Bay Times the aquarium believes she died of heart failure. Winter showed a decline in vital signs and a shift in behavior just before the procedure, per the aquarium's statement.

"The medical team tried several life-saving efforts, but she died being held by her caregivers," the CMA said.

Veterinarian Dr. Shelly Marquardt said in a statement posted to the aquarium's website that the team was "heartbroken by Winter's death," but "comforted knowing that our team did everything possible to give her the best chance at survival."

Marquardt added, "We worked with specialists and marine mammal experts from around the country to provide her with the best care available. Our staff worked around the clock during this challenging time. I'm honored to work alongside such dedicated and talented professionals who gave their all for Winter."

Clearwater Marine Aquarium did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

Dolphin Tale
Arc Prods/Kobal/Shutterstock

Winter was first brought to the Clearwater aquarium when she was just two months old after she was found tangled up in a fishing line near Cape Canaveral, per the outlet. While she lost part of her tail as a result of her injuries, she was fitted with a prosthetic and rehabilitated at the marine life rescue.

Her inspiring story was turned into a movie with 2011's Dolphin Tale starring Harry Connick Jr., Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. The film went on to spawn a 2014 sequel and even featured an appearance by Winter.

When the news of Winter's death broke last night, Connick Jr., 54, posted a tribute on Instagram in her memory.

"My heart is heavy tonight... i'll miss you, sweet winter - sending love to everyone at @cmaquarium - y'all are incredible... thank you for the work you do... love you ❤️," the actor and singer wrote.

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