A baby bottlenose dolphin who was seriously hurt when she became tangled in a Florida crab trap is the star of Winter’s Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again by Juliana, Isabella and Craig Hatkoff, published by Scholastic Press in October. Now swimming happily in a pool at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Winter is making a splash elsewhere as well. A Nintendo DS based on the book, featuring a reading by the authors, educational content, and games, was released in late November. And last week Alcon Entertainment announced it has tapped Charles Martin Smith to write and direct A Dolphin’s Tale, a film inspired by the story of Winter’s rescue and rehabilitation.

After her tail fell off as a result of her injuries, Winter was fitted with a prosthetic devise that mimics the motion of a dolphin tail and enables her to swim normally. Featured in the press and on television worldwide, the resilient dolphin soon became a celebrity, inspiring others who are striving to overcome life challenges and drawing unprecedented crowds to Clearwater Marine Aquarium. CEO David Yates estimates that the number of visitors to the aquarium has almost tripled since Winter’s arrival in 2006.

Isabella and Craig Hatkoff, visiting Winter at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Craig Hatkoff, who wrote Owen & Mzee with his daughter Isabella, now 11, and other books about animal heroes with Isabella and her 14-year-old sister Juliana, immediately warmed to Winter’s story. “The stories we tell in our books mostly involve tragedy or trauma out of which hope springs forth,” he says. “I always look for what I call teachable, magic moments, and a story we’re thinking of writing has to pass what my daughters and I call the goosebumps test. Winter’s story has all of this. And it also has a real heart-thumping aspect, since it wasn’t clear in the beginning if she would survive.”

The Hatkoffs’ collaborative process is “very informal and organic,” explains Craig, noting that “each one of us brings a different element to the book.” He describes Isabella as “the animal fanatic” and says that Juliana “is more focused on the people dynamic.” Winter’s Tail marks a departure from the trio’s earlier projects, as this is their first story set in the U.S. and the family has been able to visit the aquarium and get to know the dolphin. “That made it such a personal experience,” says Craig, who reports that “Isabella’s life was transformed the second she got into the tank with Winter. She decided right then that she knows what she wants to be: a dolphin trainer.”

Since Winter's arrival, visitors to
the aquarium have nearly tripled.
Photo: Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Yates, who oversaw the creation of Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s documentary film, Winter: The Dolphin That Could, negotiated the movie deal with Alcon. “When Winter first arrived, I knew it would be wonderful if three things could help get her message out: a book, a documentary, and a movie,” he says. “So we’re very excited about the movie now falling into place.” It hasn’t yet been decided where the film will be shot—or whether Winter will make an appearance in it. “That’s part of the discussion,” says Yates. “You never know.”

Winter did appear in a live Webcast sponsored by Scholastic in October, which featured clips from the documentary, interviews with aquarium staffers, and a fourth birthday celebration for the dolphin, who was clearly thrilled when presented with a cake (made of fish). Suzanne Murphy, v-p and group publisher, Scholastic trade publishing and marketing, reports that more than 15,000 schools tuned into the Webcast, for an estimated 500,000 total viewers. “The positive feedback from teachers has been incredible,” she says, adding that the Webcast continues to draw viewers on a dedicated Web site.

In addition to ongoing cross-promotion with the aquarium and a full-page ad in Natural History magazine, Scholastic promoted Winter’s Tail with an essay contest, the winner of which (to be announced next week) will receive a trip to Florida to meet Winter.

Asked whether there might be follow-up books to Winter’s Tail, which has 50,000 copies in print after a return trip to press, both Craig Hatkoff and Murphy are optimistic. “It’s early, since we’ve just come off the publication of the book, but there are lots of possibilities for continuing this story,” says the publisher.

“I would love to see more books and videos that will make even more people aware of Winter’s story,” Hatkoff replies. “Winter continues to grow physically and is now wearing her 10th prosthetic tail. So I won’t say her story has legs—but it is definitely a story that has tails.”

Winter’s Tail by Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, and Craig Hatkoff. Scholastic Press, $16.99 ISBN 978-0-545-12335-8