Dolphin Tale is a movie based on true events. The story revolves around two central characters, Winter, a dolphin and Sawyer, a young boy. Winter becomes tangled in a fishing trap which leaves her stranded on the shore of a small village. A local fisherman discovers her and calls out to Sawyer as he is riding past the area on his bike. Rescue workers eventually show up to take the dolphin to a center where she can receive treatment for her wounds. As the story progresses, Sawyer develops a bond with the family that runs the center for sea animals, and becomes especially close to a girl named Hazel.
Sawyer also has problems to contend with in his education. He has been failing a lot of his classes and is required to attend summer school. His mother is not aware at first of the time Sawyer is spending at the center with Winter. Winter, ends up losing the fin on the end of her tail, which she needs for balance. The doctor at the center is concerned about her health because she is unresponsive. It seems Winter will only respond to Sawyer, who becomes a regular at the center and learns how to feed and care for the dolphin.
Even when Winter begins eating and her mood perks up with Sawyer's visits, there is still a danger she will die because of her missing fin. Sawyer's bond with Winter leads him to seek help from a man who helped create an artificial limb for his cousin. The plan is to create an artificial tail for Winter which will act the same as a real one. There is drama in the story which revolves around creating a tail which Winter won't reject and the impending financial takeover of the center by someone who wants to close it down.