CLEARWATER, Fla. — David Yates, the longtime CEO of Clearwater Marine Aquarium credited with bringing international attention and prominence to the attraction, will step down from his position later this year, CMA announced Monday.

  • Yates hired in 2006
  • Winter the Dolphin saga took place under Yates' tenure
  • Yates stepping down effective March 15, 2020

Yates' tenure as CEO will officially end on March 15, 2020, according to a media release. Frank Dame, who has served as the Aquarium's Chief Operating Officer since 2008, was voted unanimously by the attraction's board to succeed Yates.

Hired in 2006, Yates' time at CMA is highlighted by the amazing story of Winter, the dolphin whose remarkable story of survival has inspired thousands of news stories, documentaries, and most notably the "Dolphin Tale" feature films. Yates himself co-produced the films, which went on to be global box office hits and brought Winter's story to audiences everywhere.



When Yates became CEO in 2006, the attraction's budget was $1.6 million. Fourteen years later, thanks in part to the success enjoyed during Yates' tenure, that budget is between $20 and $25 million.

Yates, 60, called his job the best in the country in his resignation announcement.

"I love the work — rescuing marine life, the work we do with kids, the conservation and research work — so the mission is fantastic, but I do have another chapter in my life I'd like to get to," he said.

Yates went on to say that next chapter will focus on writing books, public speaking, and producing TV shows and other films. 

Dame, for his part, said he will miss Yates' leadership.

"It's bittersweet," he said. "David and I have been working together for 13 years and he has taken CMA from ashes to stardom, if you will."

Yates will oversee the grand opening of the Aquarium's $79 million expansion prior to his departure.