Dolphin Tale

Dolphin Tale Information

Dolphin Tale is a 2011 family drama film directed by Charles Martin Smith from a screenplay by Karen Janszen and Noam Dromi and a book of the same name. It stars Nathan Gamble, Harry Connick, Jr., Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson and Morgan Freeman.

The book and film are inspired by the true story of Winter, a bottlenose dolphin that was rescued in December 2005 off the Florida coast and taken in by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Winter lost her tail after becoming entangled with a rope attached to a crab trap and was fitted with a prosthetic one. On 18th June 2013, it was announced that a sequel is in planning.


The initial scenes of the movie show a pod of dolphins in their natural place followed by a crab fisherman returning a crab trap to the ocean after emptying the trap of its contents.

In the next scene, Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble) is biking along the beach when a fisherman (Richard Libertini), calls for help after finding an injured bottlenose dolphin tangled in a crab trap. The two call for assistance, and rescue workers from the Clearwater Marine Hospital, run by Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr.), take the injured dolphin for treatment. Clay's daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) names the dolphin Winter, as two prior dolphins, Summer and Autumn, were successfully returned to the ocean, and believes that using seasons as names will continue the streak. She allows Sawyer to see Winter. Clay initially does not like the arrangement since Sawyer is not trained in marine animal care, but after noticing that Winter responds well whenever Sawyer is around, he is allowed to visit. Soon Sawyer, who was enrolled in summer school due to his failing or nearly failing all his classes during the year, starts skipping classes daily to visit Winter. Sawyer's mother Lorraine (Ashley Judd) finds out about Sawyer skipping classes, but after seeing that Sawyer's interaction with Winter has improved his moods and well-being, something Sawyer had not shown since being abandoned by his father who disappeared five years earlier, she withdraws him from summer school and agrees to let him to volunteer at the hospital.

Unfortunately, Winter's tail is damaged and thus must be amputated. Winter learns to swim without a tail by developing a side-to-side motion, like a fish, but after an x-ray Clay notices that the unnatural motion is causing stress on her spine; if continued the motion will eventually kill her. Meanwhile, Sawyer's cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell), a champion swimmer, returns from the military with a damaged right leg from an explosion. Sawyer wants Kyle to meet Winter and excitedly anticipates seeing him at a welcome-back party thrown by his aunt, but is devastated to learn that Kyle has skipped the party, preferring to stay at the local Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Sawyer and Lorraine go to visit Kyle who is working with Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) in the facility's prosthetics lab. To Sawyer's surprise, Kyle is embarrassed to see them and even asks them to leave, which infuriates Sawyer. Kyle takes him on a walk and talks to Sawyer about his leg. Sawyer then asks Dr. McCarthy about a prosthetic tail for Winter. He agrees to work on the project during his upcoming vacation, and convinces his prosthetic supplier (Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, which supplies Winter's real-life tails) to supply the parts at no cost. Dr. McCarthy manufactures a "homemade" model tail while waiting for the real one to arrive; however, Winter destroys it by banging it against the pool wall.

Shortly thereafter the hospital, already in financial peril, is seriously damaged by Hurricane LeRoy, whereupon the board of directors agree to close the hospital, sell the land to a real estate developer, and find homes for the animals, except Winter, who due to her condition is not wanted by anyone and may have to be euthanized. However, after a chance encounter with a mother and daughter (who also had a prosthetic limb) who heard about Winter's story and drove all the way from Atlanta to see her, Sawyer comes up with a last chance plan ("Save Winter Day") to save the facility. Clay is not sold on the idea, but reconsiders after talking with his father, Reed (Kris Kristofferson). Kyle agrees to a race against Donovan Peck, the current local swim champion who followed him at high school and broke nearly all his prior swim records, and enlists a female friend at Bay News 9 to promote the event.

The Hanger-supplied tail finally arrives; however, Winter damages it as well. Sawyer discovers that Winter isn't rejecting the tail; instead, the plastic to which the tail is attached is irritating her skin, which Sawyer compares to a seat belt chafing human skin. Dr. McCarthy comes up with an alternative gel-like sock (which he calls "WintersGel", the real-life name of the Hanger product used to attach prosthetic limbs, which was developed during its research with Winter); and finally on Save Winter Day she is able to accept the new plastic and tail.

At Save Winter Day, Sawyer's former summer school teacher gives him credit for his work at the hospital, allowing Sawyer to pass summer school despite not attending formal classes. The fisherman who initially spotted Winter places $40 in the donation jar saying, "Winter and I are old friends." The board learns that the real estate deal has closed; however the developer, who attended the event with his grandchildren, agrees to allow the hospital to remain open and says he will financially support it.

The ending shows documentary footage from Winter's actual rescue, several of the prosthetic tails that Winter has worn, and scenes from real amputees who have visited Winter at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Differences between the movie and actual events

  • In the movie Winter is found stranded on a beach near Clearwater, by a fisherman sitting on the shore (and rescued with Sawyer's assistance). In real life, Winter was found in Mosquito Lagoon south of New Smyrna Beach, part of the Cape Canaveral National Seashore, not on a beach but by a fisherman in the lagoon, and Winter was 1st taken to the local Marine Discovery center, then transferred to Clearwater (on the opposite side of the state).
  • In the movie Winter appears to be at or near full growth when she is rescued. In real life she was about two months old.
  • In the movie it is mentioned that Winter's tail was amputated due to infection caused by the tail being caught in the rope. In real life, the loss of blood supply to the tail (from being caught in the rope) caused most of the tail to naturally fall off, with a small piece being amputated.
  • In the movie the process of developing Winter's tail takes place over a few weeks by a Veteran's Administration doctor working during his vacation. In real life, the process of developing a suitable tail (and attaching it) took a number of months by Kevin Carroll and Dan Strzempka from Hanger Clinic.
  • In the movie Winter is found during the summer. In real life Winter was found during summer.
  • Winter's name was thought of by Hazel because two other dolphins were called Autumn and Summer. In real life, she is called Winter because she was found during the winter season.
  • In the movie Hurricane Leroy damaged the hospital. There was never a storm named Leroy that has ever hit Clearwater

Primary cast

  • Harry Connick Jr. as Dr. Clay Haskett, the operator of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater and Hazel's father.
  • Ashley Judd as Lorraine Nelson, Sawyer's mother and a nurse.
  • Nathan Gamble as Sawyer Nelson, an 11-year-old boy who finds Winter and cuts the crab trap off her. And he also becomes Winter's "mom" and friend.
  • Winter as herself, an injured dolphin that must have part of her fluke amputated. Despite that, she adapts and swims side-to-side. But that figures to be bad for Winter's spine, hence the fake tail (which allows her to swim naturally.)
  • Kris Kristofferson as Reed Haskett, Clay's father and Hazel's grandfather.
  • Morgan Freeman as Dr. Cameron McCarthy, a prosthetic designer and Kyle's doctor at the VA Hospital.
  • Jim Fitzpatrick as Max Connellan, Kyle's father and Sawyer's uncle.
  • Cozi Zuehlsdorff as Hazel Haskett, an 11-year-old girl and the daughter of Clay and granddaughter of Reed.
  • Ray McKinnon as Mr. Doyle, Sawyer's teacher.
  • Austin Stowell as Kyle Connellan, Sawyer's cousin.
  • Michael Roark as Donovan Peck, a friend of Kyle's.


Dolphin Tale was filmed in native 3D. The film was shot primarily in Pinellas County, Florida with the principal location centering around Winter's home, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Additional locations featured in the film include: Admiral Farragut Academy, Honeymoon Island, Tarpon Springs, and local news station Bay News 9.


Dolphin Tale was released on September 23, 2011 in North America by Warner Bros. Pictures and Alcon Entertainment. The film was released in Real D 3D as well as 2D.

The movie was released on DVD and Blu-ray on December 20, 2011.

Box office

The film opened at #3 with $19.2 million behind the 3D re-release of The Lion King and Moneyball. In its second weekend, the film reached the #1 spot, dropping only 27%, and grossed $13.9 million. As of January 5, 2012, the film has grossed $72,070,473 in the United States and Canada as well as $17,594,373 internationally bringing its worldwide total to $89,664,846.


The film received very positive reviews from critics, which came as a surprise to many as the film had not previously been considered likely to be very enjoyable. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 83% of 102 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.5 out of 10. Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 64 based on 30 reviews. Blake Wilson, author of the review blogsite Movies Taken Seriously, gave the film 4 stars, calling it "Heartwarming, dramatic, and told, Dolphin Tale is one of those rare family gems that is excellent in every way".


Award Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Young Artist AwardBest Performance in a Feature Film - Leading Young ActorNathan Gamble
Best Performance in a Feature Film - Supporting Young ActressCozi Zuehlsdorff
38th People's Choice Awards - Favorite Movie Icon (Morgan Freeman, won) 38th Saturn Awards - Best Actor (Harry Connick Jr.), Best Writing (Bob Engleman) (Nominated).


A sequel titled Dolphin Tale 2 will be released on September 19, 2014. Plans of the sequel are to focus on a baby dolphin named Hope who also resides in the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and was found after the First Film was made. The sequel was announced on 18th June 2013.

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Dolphin_Tale" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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