OKATIE, S.C. (AP) — Carolina Snowball is finally back where she belongs.

The snow white dolphin with black teeth and pink eyes mesmerized the nation when she was captured near Beaufort by the Miami Seaquarium in 1962.

Three million people came to see her in the last three years of her life in Miami, but long before that she held a slippery, mystical hold on Beaufort County. She was the lore of the watermen of St. Helena Sound, like shrimper "Sonny" Gay who knew her to be smart and full of personality.

Pat Conroy put her in "The Prince of Tides," and in his fictional tale local kids freed Snowball and brought her home.

And now that has come true.

A life-sized replica of "Carolina Snowball" — including her real cranium, jaw and teeth — now seems to swim through mid-air beside a model of her gray pup "Sonny Boy" at the Port Royal Sound Foundation Maritime Center on S.C. 170 at the Chechessee River.

Surely that would please the Beaufortonians of the 1960s who called Snowball's capture "porpoise pirating" and "a dirty shame."

The episode led to America's first law to protect marine mammals, and it came from right here in Beaufort County. The late state Sen. James Waddell of Beaufort hurriedly pushed it through. But it was good only for Beaufort County, and Snowball and the pup she was nursing were netted just across the county line.

Snowball took on a new life when she died.

The Miami Seaquarium put out a 9-foot replica of Carolina Snowball.

But decades later, Kevin Vanacore of Florida, who had been infatuated with Snowball from childhood, had to rescue the replica from a storage area.

He had it professionally rebuilt, and the fiberglass replica itself is said to be a rarity.

By 2014, Vanacore was looking for a better home for Snowball than his garage.

That's when she first came to the Maritime Center. It was a perfect place. The foundation focuses on the ecology, history, culture, art and recreation spawned by the Port Royal Sound. It's center in the old Lemon Island Marina building is free and open to people of all ages, hosting more than 1,000 school students this spring.

It helps educate people in a hands-on way about our rare environment, and our responsibilities in it.

"One of the main points is that protecting marine mammals was started here by the people of Beaufort County and that segues into the big reason we are here — to create awareness and appreciation for this body of water," said Jody Hayward, executive director of the foundation.

But earlier this year, Vanacore took Snowball and Sonny Boy back to Florida.

He said he was working on a project involving Snowball and he needed to take her to California to be modeled for computerized animation. He also was miffed that he was not given more credit at the display.

Soon after Snowball's disappearance became public, the parties got back together and Vanacore ended up selling the replicas to the foundation so that they are now here for good.

"I touched bases with Kevin and we had a great conversation," Hayward said. "We ended up saying, 'Let's just make this permanent.'

"It's always been an honor to have Snowball here and we're thrilled she is back."

Vanacore said he had completed everything he needed to do with the replica and it was hanging in a boathouse in his backyard.

"The Maritime Center was a natural home for the dolphin," he said. "It's really a good place for her to be."

He said he wanted to recoup a portion of the money he'd put into the two replicas, but he had decided they belonged here.

"It was a piece of history, and no matter how many people enjoyed it at my little barbecues, it is nothing like what she can do in a museum," Vanacore said.

"At the end of the day, I think Snowball is in a better place."

David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale

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Information from: The Island Packet, http://www.islandpacket.com