She’s already made a splash on network television (including a plug by Whoopi Goldberg on The View) but on September 23, Winter, a bottlenose dolphin, will make her big-screen debut in Dolphin Tale, from Warner Bros. Pictures and Alcon Entertainment. The film is a fictionalized account of Winter’s true story, filmed on site at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida, where Winter lives.

After a fisherman discovered Winter caught in crab trap ropes off Cape Canaveral in December 2005, she was transported to Clearwater, where her damaged tail fell off. Though Winter learned to swim by maneuvering her body from side to side, biologists were concerned that this might damage her backbone. As David Yates, director of the aquarium and co-producer of the film explained to PW, Winter was not expected to survive. But when Yates reached out to the media with Winter’s story, Kevin Carroll of Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics contacted him, and in collaboration with biologists and veterinarians, Carroll and his partner Dan Strzempka began developing a prosthetic tail for Winter.

The film centers around an 11-year-old boy, Sawyer (played by Nathan Gamble), who discovers Winter washed ashore and becomes determined to find a prosthetic scientist (Morgan Freeman) to design her a new tail The film also stars Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr., and is directed by Charles Martin Smith.

Many readers first heard Winter’s story in fall 2009, when Craig Hatkoff and his two daughters, Isabella and Juliana (the team behind the bestselling Owen & Mzee) published their photographic picture book Winter’s Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again with Scholastic. Craig Hatkoff explains that when Isabella first met Winter at the aquarium, she “fell in love after one second.”

The Hatkoffs’ picture book chronicles the traumatized dolphin’s rescue, arrival at the aquarium, and the team’s struggle to create her new tail. Eventually, Winter was fitted for a prosthetic that included the use of a gel sleeve to protect her skin. As Winter grew bigger, it was necessary to refashion larger tails, which gave the team the opportunity to refine the tail’s design and effectiveness. Today, “Winter Gel” is being used to aid in the development of prosthetic limbs for humans.

Hatkoff has witnessed children with disabilities and Iraq veterans become inspired by Winter’s perseverance in facing a physical limitation. Though the film is not directly based on the picture book, Hatkoff anticipates that it will be a “wonderful complement” to Winter’s Tail. Yates, who consulted with Hatkoff throughout the filming process, remarks how the book “flies off the shelves” at the aquarium gift store.

This month, Scholastic is also releasing an official movie book, Dolphin Tale: A Tale of True Friendship, featuring stills from the film, as well as a junior novel and a paperback reprint of Winter’s Tail. Scholastic plans to feature the Dolphin Tale trailer in its fall elementary school DVD, which will be viewed by millions of students, and Scholastic Book Fairs will feature Dolphin Tale posters in U.S. classrooms. Fans can also meet Winter by viewing the “Clearwater Marine Aquarium Virtual Field Trip” webcast on [Scholastic’s Web site]. A Nintendo DS game with an interactive book is also available for purchase on the site.

To celebrate the film’s release, a September 21 screening will take place at Ruth Eckard Concert Hall in Clearwater. Though Winter will not be present at the event, Yates says that she will make an appearance via Skype, which just might be a first for a dolphin. Yates expects the aquarium’s annual attendance of 200,000 to spike to 500,000 following the film’s release. He adds that he doesn’t have to predict how the film will affect audiences; “this movie will change lives,” he says. “We see it every day.”