- “We're here because of the most amazing animal, and friend that I've ever known, and I hope you love her as much as I do... because Winter and I are family now... and family is forever.”
- ―Sawyer Nelson, regarding his bond with Winter
However, when he encounters Winter, little does he know that what would happen from that moment on would change his life.
Sawyer is Winter's founder. He starts out as a lonely 11 year old since being abandoned by his father 5 years prior in the first film. After going to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, he makes new friends and develops a close bond with Winter, which transforms him considerably; he rapidly becomes more confident and successful.
In the sequel it is seen he is a more responsible grown up who cares about Winter and Hope. In addition, Sawyer has also become something of a celebrity for his dedication to help Winter.
Sawyer is a young dark-haired boy with white skin.
In the first film, Sawyer is depressed and not very social most of the time. While biking to summer school, he runs into a fisherman who just found an injured dolphin (Winter) tangled in a crab trap on the beach. Luckily, he uses a pocket knife that his cousin Kyle gave him to cut the ropes. Shortly afterwards, Dr. Clay Haskett, his daughter, Hazel, and the Clearwater Marine Hospital staff arrive on the scene, and transport Winter to CMH.
Going to the hospital after school, Sawyer sneaks in through the unlocked back door, and bumps into Hazel, who recognizes him from the beach, and takes him to see Winter, without her dad noticing. He visits the hospital again the next day, this time, though, Rufus makes Clay aware of Sawyer's presence. Initially, Clay isn't pleased about Sawyer trespassing, but after seeing that Winter responds to him, he allows him to come and visit.
The following day, Sawyer just skips school and goes right to the hospital. Unfortunately, he discovers that Winter's tail was amputated because it was too infected. He continues working with Winter on a daily basis. His mother, Lorraine, finds out about him skipping school, and isn't happy about it at first, but when she sees that he's doing something that's more or less educational and worthwhile, she withdraws him from summer school, and even buys him a wet suit, much to his delight. He goes on to do various tasks around the hospital, with guidance and support from Hazel and the rest of the staff.
Later, he is informed that his cousin Kyle Connellan was injured in an explosion. Sawyer is saddened when he hears that Kyle decided to go straight to the Veterans' Affairs hospital. Meanwhile, Winter has taught herself to swim with a side-to-side motion, but that has proven to be doing her more bad than good, because a dolphin's tail isn't made for that type of movement. Sawyer and Lorraine then go to the VA hospital, and meet with Kyle and Dr. Cameron McCarthy. Kyle is embarrassed by their presence and asks them to leave, much to Sawyer's anger. Kyle, not intending to upset his cousin, explains his situation, stating that he needs some time to recuperate. Sawyer then enlists Dr. McCarthy to help make a prosthetic tail for Winter. The first attempt fails, and shortly afterwards, a hurricane hits. The board of directors agree to sell and close the facility and find homes for the animals, excluding Winter, because nobody wants her due to her condition. However, a girl with a prosthetic limb from Atlanta, Georgia comes to see Winter. This motivates Sawyer to hold a fundraiser to save Winter and the facility. After another failed attempt with the prosthetic tail, Sawyer realizes what the problem is: the plastic base for the tail is making Winter feel uncomfortable, which Sawyer compares to a seat belt. So, Cameron creates a gel-like sock to go with the tail; this time, Winter accepts the tail. Phil Hordern, a real estate developer who intended to buy the facility, agrees to support it.
A few years later, Sawyer has since become a valuable member of the CMA staff, working with Winter on a regular basis. His cousin, Kyle is now going to Boston University, and his advisor, Dr. Miguel Arroyo, is impressed by Sawyer's reputation with dolphins, and invites him to go on a SEA Semester for three months. Sawyer is exhilirated by this opportunity. When he goes to the hospital the following day, he discovers that Winter's surrogate mother, Panama, has died overnight.
One day, Sawyer and Hazel investigate why Rufus has been hanging around the docks lately, and find a green sea turtle, whom they name Mavis, tangled in fishing line under the dock. Shortly afterwards, Dr. McCarthy comes to CMA to make a new prosthetic tail for Winter. Unfortunately, since Panama's death, Winter has become moody, depressed, antisocial, and not feeling like herself. As the staff proceed to get her out of the water, she panics and knocks Sawyer into the water, injuring him. Phoebe dives in and pulls Sawyer to safety. Clay asks Sawyer not to swim with Winter until further notice. A little later, Susie, a new volunteer, and her grandfather come to see Winter. Clay discusses the test results for Mandy, a sunburned dolphin that they recently rescued who got her name after a young girl who found her, with Sawyer and Hazel. He explains that she is healthy again, and ready for release. They are reluctant at first, but ultimately decide to release her.
Some time later, Hazel and Sawyer check on Winter to see if she's feeling better, which she is. However, Clay gives them bad news: George Hatton just visited CMA again and issued an order for Winter to be relocated to a marine park in Texas. Lorraine, and the rest of Sawyer's friends organize a party for him, which makes him feel a little better. Clay then gets a call that a young female dolphin, one so young she doesn't know how to survive in the wild, has been rescued. They name her Hope. Throughout the month of August, the CMA staff are busy preparing to put Winter and Hope together. At the same time, they release Mavis, whose flippers have healed. When the staff put Winter and Hope together, Hope panics after seeing Winter lacks a tail and swims differently than normal dolphins. Sawyer believes the prosthetic tail may have better results; though Phoebe and the rest of the staff are skeptical, they agree to give it a shot. Dr. McCarthy designs a new prosthetic tail that's more stream-lined and with more floppier flukes that make it more like an actual dolphin's tail. The second pairing starts out the same way initially, but this time, Winter and Hope accept each other. The staff and visitors celebrate as George allows Clay to keep Winter at CMA. Over the next few days, Sawyer spends his time with Hazel, Winter, and Hope until mid-September, when he goes to Tampa Airport for the SEA Semester in Boston, while recieving a fond farewell from Hazel.
Sawyer is always on good terms with his mother, and vice versa. Like any parent, she just hopes that Sawyer can become more confident in trying times. Fortunately, he gets the chance when he encounters Winter.
Sawyer and Hazel first meet when Winter is being picked up by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium staff. Over time, they start to become good friends. By the second film, they start to develop feelings for each other.