Rescued dolphin celebrates 19 years at CMA on Christmas Eve

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CLEARWATER, FL – Two miracles got to meet each other for the first time at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium on Christmas Eve – a young girl recovering from a bone marrow transplant and a bottlenose dolphin rescued 19 years ago, until today.

Jed Westbrooks, from St. Louis, has sickle cell anemia. She recently turned 18 while in hospital for a bone marrow transplant. It is a miracle for her family after her older sister did not survive the disease with which they were born.

“The bone marrow transplant helps me and I’ve been really fortunate because a lot of kids have to do it multiple times or not get out and I’ve been able to,” Westbrooks told ABC Action News.

bone marrow patient

Westbrooks family

Triumph is something she and Nicholas or Nick the Dolphin have in common.

He and his mother, Noel, were rescued offshore north of Apollo Beach in 2002. His mother had an upper respiratory infection and could no longer swim.

“Nicholas was only six months old at the time and knew nothing better than him but to follow his mother everywhere she went,” said Elizabeth Bullock, an animal care specialist at Clearwater Aquarium. “Because of this, he also went to the beach and both suffered second and third degree sunburns.”

The burn scars are still visible on Nick’s back today.

Nick scars from sunburn.  jpg


“He was adamant he was unreleasable because unfortunately, Noel ended up dying a few days later,” Bullock explained. “Baby dolphins usually need their mother for one to two years, and they usually spend about three to seven years with their mother learning everything.”

On the nineteenth anniversary of his rescue, Nick was thriving. In fact, he loves attention.

When he’s right and he’s so proud of himself, he goes and does a descent dance in the middle of the pool and it’s really funny to watch,” Bullock laughed.

“I relate to Nicholas because we both have scars that will never leave us, both physically and emotionally,” Westbrooks said. “But at the same time we are very happy and we can be here and connect with people and it’s okay for bad things to happen because good things always happen too.”

Clearwater Marine Aquarium contacts hospitals across the United States to find children and teens who can use a little inspiration from their marine lives.

They sponsored Westbrook’s trip to Clearwater where I was able to meet animals, go on a boat for the first time, and go into the ocean for the first time without having to worry about extreme cold and pain.


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