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Winter's Tale: A Life-Saving Prosthetic Case Notes

Module by: Jennifer Drozd. E-mail the author

Summary: Case notes to a classical dilemma case study regarding a dolphin and a prosthetic tail.

Winter’s Tale:

The “Bionic” Dolphin

Case Study Notes


Jennifer Drozd

SCE 4863

University of South Florida


Winter’s story is quite the inspirational tale. Students will find this tale informative as well as intriguing. Since dolphins are considered one of the more intelligent of mammal species, humans relate to them more so than other animals. “People bestow dolphins with human traits and feelings — a sense of humor, a mourning instinct, even empathy. Dolphins have been mythologically bonded to man since the Greeks.” When others hear this story of survival, a sense of motivation and encouragement passes through. Children and veterans of war who also wear prosthetics come from all over just to get a glimpse of the dolphin who gave them hope. In fact, the new design and material for the dolphin tail led to improvement to better human prosthetics. An example of this is a 10 year old girl who lost both of her legs to meningitis. She was unable to wear the normal prosthetics for they were too abrasive on her sensitive legs. Kevin Carroll, one of the engineers of the prosthetic tail, used the silica from Winter’s prosthetic instead of the abrasive plastic typically used. This was the simply the start of the improvements this prosthetic would lead to.

Not only did Winter’s new prosthetic improve the life of a 10 year old but, in fact, saved her own as well. As mentioned in the case itself, the newly adapted swimming style created much pressure on Winter’s spinal cord. The constant side-to-side motion eventually cause scoliosis in Winter’s spine. After many different prosthetic designs, Carroll finally fitted Winter with a tail that she could not kick off so easily. It took years and much training for Winter to get used to this new tail but she soon was flipping and flopping like a typical dolphin would. After some therapy, Winter’s scoliosis had been reversed. Since the skin of a dolphin is very delicate, Winter can only wear the brace for several hours of the day. Typically her trainers will put it on her in the morning when she is most hungry. When Winter has a large appetite, she will strive to achieve a successful training session to get her reward, a big bucket of fish.

Winter’s story involves science, technology, society and environment in a story so compelling. Winter’s initial problem was caused by her environment and how humans interact with it. The fishermen placed the crab traps by the bay which entangled the baby dolphin initially. It took much medicine and science to restore the baby dolphin to substantial health. With the improvements in technology, a successful prosthetic tail was designed to once again save Winter’s life. Her story reached out to society through the media and created a sense of hope to those who face the same dilemma as she does.


  • To discuss the relevancy between Winter and society, how this situation affects society.
  • To discuss the importance of the prosthetic tail to Winter’s life and how prosthetics are important to lives of others.
  • To learn about how human interaction can cause destruction to the environment and animals.
  • To analyze how humans both endangered and saved Winter’s life and ways it could have been prevented.
  • To discuss the improvements Winter’s story can make on the lives of others and how the new technology of her prosthetic can improve the typically used prosthetics.

Classroom Management

I strongly recommend dividing the classroom into groups and have each group discuss the classical dilemma case. With the discussion, have each group decide upon plausible causes and effects of this problem. If discussing this case as a whole, allow the students to voice their opinions and concerns on this topic. The instructor should discuss the above objectives. If dividing the class up into groups, allow each group to discuss one of the objectives. Their results and conclusions should be announced to the class and be allowed for further questioning. I recommend dispersing a copy of a newspaper article or magazine article about Winter to support the case. These articles can be handed out to the relevancy of the objective (ex: an article about the 10 year old with improved prosthetics can be reviewed by the group discussing the fifth objective.) Another interactive activity would be to show a video of Winter AFTER the discussion. I stress after the discussion because the video will most likely to reveal any topics being discussed, ultimately stopping the students from thinking on their own. The video will give an interesting and live perspective of Winter. Many videos are available on the internet, most about five minutes or so. When teaching this case to a younger audience, perhaps providing a copy of Winter’s book will catch their interest. This case study can be taught to any student ranging from age 8 and up. Children under the age of 8 may not grasp a concept of the ideas expressed in this case study. The objectives and classroom management may need to be revised according to the age of the classroom.


To finalize the case study, have the students assess the situation at hand. Although no precise questions are asked, involve the students in a debate. One side of the class can take the stance that Winter is simply a dolphin and should not receive any special treatment, especially very costly and time consuming treatment, when no guaranteed results are offered. Another side can pose as supporters of Winter’s treatment. Allow them to decide why she should receive this treatment and how it not only saves Winter’s life, but benefits others in society. After this forced sided debate, question the students of their own opinions. Were they swayed to one side before/after the debates?

To show that the prosthetic did actually save Winter’s life, have the students access and view her on the live webcam. This will indefinitely peak their interest viewing this inspirational dolphin live and swimming. Either view the website as a class entirely or have the students interact with this website in small groups. They can observe how Winter

interacts with the other dolphins and how she swims differently. All in all, Winter proved to be a fighting dolphin who survived what most dolphins (and even humans) cannot.


Barry, J. and C. Stuart. 2008. Winter’s Tale. St. Petersburg Times.

Barry, J. 2008. Winter’s Tale, Part 3: To build a Tail. St. Petersburg Times.

Barry, J. 2008. Winter’s Tale: Saving Winter. St. Petersburg Times.

Schulte, E. 2007. Injured dolphin may get a new tail. St. Petersburg Times.

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