any measure, Dolphin Tale would be a tough act to follow. 

Released in 2011, the feel-good movie was a fictionalized story inspired by the true tale of Winter, a young bottlenose dolphin who lost her tail due to complications from being entangled in a crab trap line. Rescued by Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida, Winter overcame obstacles and was fitted with a prosthetic tail that helped her swim again.

With the movie release, Winter became an inspiration to many people, especially those with disabilities, attracting record-breaking attendance and worldwide attention to the facility. So much attention, in fact, that the organization has plans for a $68 million expansion.

Although the sequel, Dolphin Tale 2, can’t offer quite as unique a plot, it still has an important message. 

The movie opens with the death of Panama, Winter’s 40-year-old female dolphin companion. Because dolphins are social animals, the staff must find another female dolphin to relieve her isolation or Winter will be shipped to another facility.

A Different Kind of Aquarium

As with the first movie, many of the scenes were filmed at the real Clearwater Marine Aquarium. It’s important to note that Clearwater Marine Aquarium isn’t a swim-with-the-dolphin organization with questionable capture practices or an aquatic theme park offering staged animal performances, like so many facilities in the news of late. Rather, it’s a nonprofit devoted to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of injured marine animals, as well as education and research.

The film does a good job portraying a potential dilemma for caregivers at facilities like this one. On the one hand, Dr. Clay Haskett, played by Harry Connick Jr., knows that the isolated dolphin is stressed, and if a suitable companion can’t be found, the USDA will send her to another facility within a month.

At the same time, management reminds him that they need Winter to help draw the crowds that provide the funding that supports their mission to help injured animals and advance research and education. It’s a tough balancing act.

A Return to the Wild

While Winter appears bereft without her companion, Mandy, another female bottlenose, recuperates at the aquarium from a respiratory infection and sunburn after becoming stranded too close to shore. Despite the pleas of the teenage characters, Dr. Haskett decides that Mandy is healthy and must be released to the wild. (Don’t worry, there’s more to the movie, so this isn’t really a spoiler.)

In this way, Dolphin Tale 2 is partially a story of letting go, which, although it’s certainly an emotional event, it really is the ultimate success for organizations such as these. In addition to Mandy, a green sea turtle is rehabilitated and released.  

Something for the Whole Family

The movie offers plenty of warmth for families, especially since it portrays the strong attachment kids can make with creatures like those featured. Of course, some of the scenes are unrealistic, such as when the head veterinarian’s teenage daughter demands to see Mandy’s medical records — so she can evaluate for herself whether the dolphin is healthy enough for release. (No veterinary school required, apparently!)

And although it’s beautiful to watch the two kids swimming and somersaulting through the water with the dolphin, in reality, this practice is not only dangerous for people, but chances are, dolphins would prefer to swim with their own species.

Perhaps the most telling scenes, though, are when the camera provides an underwater view from the dolphin’s perspective. In those few moments, we realize that it’s not about us. We can’t possibly presume to know what these creatures think or feel. We can’t decipher their chattering. And we can’t keep them in our world for our benefit. The best we can do, whenever possible, is protect them from harm and help them return to their own world.