The box office success of “Dolphin Tale” is bringing record numbers of visitors to Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
In three weeks, the family film about Winter, a dolphin that lost its tail in a trap, has made more than $50 million at the box office.
Officials at the aquarium, where Winter is the main attraction, say October attendance is up 669 percent over this time in October 2009, when only 838 guests had visited the animal rescue facility. The aquarium was closed during the fall of 2010 to accommodate filming of the movie.
Last week, more than 6,000 guests came to the aquarium, according to aquarium officials.
“Saturday and Sunday were the biggest days in our history,” said David Yates, CEO of the marine rescue facility.
“And this is traditionally the slowest month of the year,” he said. “We are preparing for even bigger crowds when the winter tourism season kicks in November and December.”
The boost in attendance coincides with the release of “Dolphin Tale” three weeks ago. The Warner Bros.-owned Alcon Entertainment film opened at No. 3 at the box office and was No. 1 in its second week.
“It did well against Disney’s ‘Lion King’ in its first two weeks, and by Monday of this week it had taken in more than $50 million,” Yates said. “It was No. 2 this past week, if you count Friday through Monday’s box office.”
Yates said the film is rolling out worldwide and was No. 1 at the box office in many South American countries last week.
“It opened at No. 2 in Russia and opens in the United Kingdom this coming weekend,” he said. “We’re very pleased with the results so far because not only it is doing well at the box office, but it been well received critically,” he said.
Yates said the aquarium has been able to accommodate increased attendance.
“We’re planning on opening the movie prop exhibit in downtown Clearwater in mid-November.”
The film, about an 11-year-old who befriends an injured dolphin and helps it survive with an artificial tail, stars Harrick Connick Jr., Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. The production budget was reported to be more than $35 million.
Winter, a bottlenose dolphin rescued off the Atlantic coast, plays herself in the movie. She is a featured animal at the aquarium where she continues to thrive with a prosthetic tail.
Yates said Clearwater Marine Aquarium is on track with a $12 million expansion that will allow educational exhibits as well as continued rescue, rehabilitation and release of sick and injured marine animals.
See also forum topic.