This is the tale of a tail. A story which is a tribute to human ingenuity and the courage of one very special mammal who, for the past six years, has astonished thousands of visitors to her Florida aquarium.
For Winter the dolphin has a custom-built plastic and silicone prosthetic tail with which she has learned to swim — and with which she has inspired many men, women and children who have lost limbs.
Now, millions have learned about this remarkable story after it was turned into the Hollywood film currently sweeping all before it at the American box office and which opens in the UK next week.
Inspirational: Winter with her prosthetic tail
Dolphin Tale, which stars Morgan Freeman as the man who crafted the tail for Winter, recreates a real-life saga which began one December morning in 2005, when Florida fishermen found a three-month-old dolphin caught by its tail in a crab trap.
The creature, so badly hurt that her mother had abandoned her, was taken to the nearby Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a rehabilitation centre for injured sealife. But a rope in the trap which had snaked around the young dolphin's tail had cut off the blood supply, with devastating consequences.
Named Winter by aquarium staff, she lost her tail and two vertebrae, but at least survived. Slowly, she found a way to swim, albeit far more slowly and with the side-to-side motion of a shark rather than the typical up-and-down movement used by dolphins.
But veterinary experts feared that Winter's new swimming style would prove damaging. She was starting to develop scoliosis — a dangerous curving of the spine — and her future once again looked bleak.
Then Kevin Carroll, an Irishman and one of the world's leading creators of prosthetic limbs, heard about the dolphin's plight on a radio station. He and a colleague named Dan Strzempka had made artificial limbs for horses, dogs and even birds — but never before for a sea creature.
'People thought I was crazy,' says Carroll, who was born in County Tipperary but is now based in Florida. 'Maybe I am a little, but these animals bring such joy to us, so I thought: "Why not?"'
He was soon to understand quite what a challenge he faced, for prosthetics do not generally need to be as flexible as a dolphin's tail.
This one not only had to attach to the end of Winter's body, and be able to move up and down as well as twisting as she swam: the whole thing was complicated by the fact that dolphins have incredibly sensitive skin which marks and damages easily.
Fishy tale: A worker at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida holds the prosthetic tail
Carroll's challenge was to find a way of attaching a plastic and silicone tail to Winter without causing too much discomfort.
He and Strzempka eventually developed a completely new and very soft material — dubbed WintersGel — which can be moulded into a protective sleeve between the body and the artificial tail.
After a year and a half's work, the first tail was ready. Starting with a small version and gradually substituting bigger and bigger ones, they allowed Winter to become accustomed to using each one, gradually increasing the number of hours she wore them for each day.
Each time, Winter had to be held carefully by her keepers at the side of her pool while the prosthetic was eased into place.
Kevin Carroll still remembers the moment he saw Winter swim with her first tail. 'It was breathtaking to watch her in the water, and just see this very clean, anatomically correct, fluid-like motion in the water,' he said.
Carroll and Strzempka — whose characters are rolled into one and played by Freeman in the film — still visit Winter at the aquarium at least once a month. (Their work on the tails is thought to have cost them as much as $200,000, but they chose not to charge for their services.)
Maimed: Winter before her artificial tail was fitted
Now, a new chapter of the dolphin's life has opened with her helping injured servicemen and children who have lost limbs to come to terms with their own challenges. A swim with Winter in her pool has worked wonders not only with youngsters struggling to cope with a disability, but also with those suffering from deafness or autism.
'I'd heard that dolphins were very caring, but Winter is particularly special in this regard,' said Carroll.
'She has a way of connecting with injured people. Someone missing a limb is obvious, but she seems to be able to pick up on anyone with a physical challenge and somehow connect with them.'
Dolphins learn how to survive from their parents. Having lost her mother so young, Winter cannot be released into the wild. But in her newly-built 80,000-gallon aquarium pool, the resilience of this rather marvellous creature is enriching the lives of those who are lucky enough to meet her.