Life imitated art for Dolphin Tale star Austin Highsmith when she was called upon to help rescue a stranded dolphin while researching her role as a trainer at a sanctuary in Florida.

The actress spent three weeks at a sea-life centre in Clearwater before shooting on the film's upcoming sequel began, and she was thrust into her role when she was asked to help experts come to the aid of a desperate dolphin.

She tells Wenn, "While I was there they just rescued another dolphin. I was having dinner in my dress and heels, and Abby, the trainer I portray, grabbed me and said, 'Come with me, we're rescuing a dolphin'.

"I actually watched the dolphin being brought out of the ambulance and lowered down in the stretcher into the tank. Then they were like, 'Austin, can you get an extension cord?' I was helping with a dolphin rescue! I have pictures on my phone.

"I watched her being introduced to a tank for the first time. She was so small and so scared because she'd never interacted with a human being before.

"I watched them try and feed her with a bottle. Just seeing the compassion Abby has for them and making them feel as comfortable as possible with this alien species that has them in a tank in the middle of nowhere. The lines got completely blurred because we were making a movie about the same experience. That's never happened before, ever! So I was trying to realistically portray that as much as possible in the film."