updated 09/22/2011 AT 4:00 PM ET
•originally published 09/22/2011 AT 5:00 PM ET
When Harry Connick Jr. first read the script for a movie about a dolphin who loses her tail but survives with the help of human friends and an inspirational will to live, he thought it had come entirely from someone’s imagination.
“I was blown away to find out the story was real,” Connick tells PEOPLE.
Not only was the story real, but the filmmakers also brought in the real-life dolphin, named Winter, to play herself in the movie. “I was just so thrilled to know that I’d be able to work with her,” he says. “It was an incredible experience.”