Inspiration lives at Clearwater Marine Aquarium! People with amazing stories walk in every day to visit Winter, Hope and all of our rescued marine animals. The animals have incredible stories of survival and resilience that have connected and touched people’s lives around the world. One of these is a special young girl named Layla.
Our CEO, David Yates just happened to be walking through the aquarium meeting guests and began a conversation with Layla and her mother. He soon realized that this cheerful little girl with cute sunglasses also had a cane and was visually impaired. 7-year-old Layla was born blind with Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), an eye disorder affecting the retina.
A Chance for Layla to Meet the Dolphins
Understanding Layla’s special condition and her love for Winter, Hope and the Dolphin Tale movies they starred in, we arranged for a special encounter to meet the dolphins. Knowing that Layla could not see them, it was important to have her feel and hear them. Layla’s mother guided her to the Winter Zone platform, where she was shown how to interact with Hope by Mallory, one of the animal care providers. After gently touching Hope’s skin, Layla was asked by David to describe what the experience was like.
“It was like really really fun and cool,” she replied. “She feels like a raft in the water that is shaped like a dolphin, and it’s really flat and squishy,” she said, describing the feeling in detail. Although she could not see them, Layla enjoyed being near the dolphins and feeling like she was around nature and sea animals.
Hearing Dolphin Vocalizations
Layla enjoyed some more time with Hope and fed her some fish. Mallory also showed her how to signal a few distinct sounds from Hope. Turning over to Winter on the other side of the pool, Layla learned a few more gestures from Julie, another care provider. Winter responded with a series of unique vocalizations, produced from the dolphin’s blowhole. Finally, Winter playfully splashed a little water toward Layla, who happily soaked it in.
Layla wants to come back to the aquarium in a few years when she’s ten. We hope she does and until then everyone at Clearwater Marine Aquarium will continue sharing Hope, Winter and now Layla’s amazing spirit of inspiration and joy.
Watch Layla’s full encounter with Winter and Hope below: