Here’s a little Google exercise for you. Type the word “dolphins” into your search box and look at the news headlines for the day. Once you weed through the NFL reports, you’ll see a bizarre mix of stories: a dolphin-assisted birth, a newly discovered ancient species, an annual slaughter underway in Japan. This blend of mystic wonder with scientific awe and downright dangerous environmental confrontations is exactly what you get in Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins by Susan Casey.
Casey, a former competitive skier and magazine editor in chief, is most at home in the ocean. Her first two books took us on wet adventures into the worlds of great white sharks (The Devil's Teeth) and surfers chasing rouge waves (The Wave). While dolphins may sound a bit softer, Casey manages to mix in a fair share of nail-biting adventure. After visiting Dolphinville, a community of spinner lovers on Hawaii’s Big Island who claim to telepathically communicate with the marine mammals, she jets off to much more dangerous locals: the Solomon Islands, where tribes are literally holding dolphins hostage to negotiate land rights, and Taiji, Japan, where local fisherman still round up and slaughter hundreds of animals as they did in the documentary film The Cove.
I chatted with Casey recently about her new book and what she hopes readers will take away from its pages.
In Voices in the Ocean, you describe a euphoric encounter with wild dolphins at the beginning of the book. Have you always been fascinated with them, even before that happened?
Yes. I was intrigued by how dolphins are entangled with human life in all kinds of ways, and across the entire spectrum. They’re just involved in so much of our everyday life and our neurosis or our bright side. There are dolphins everywhere.
During your research, you put yourself in a few potentially dangerous situations. Are you as fearless as you seem?
I think I’m always scared. I don’t necessarily let fear dictate what I’m going to do. When I’m working on a story I’m just so focused on it that I’m not even sure if I’m really aware of how dangerous it is. In Solomon Islands, I knew that it was dangerous so I was more cautious, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to do it.
What is it like being a woman investigating these male-dominated worlds of weather scientists, environmental warriors, extreme surfers, and such?
I don’t think I could have written The Wave if I was male. I would not have been accepted into that group—it would have been like antlers crashing. Though being a woman is not necessarily an advantage when you’re traveling, I often find that people aren’t as likely to have their guard up around you.
What was the best part about researching Voices?
Any time I was in the water, in the wild, in the ocean with a dolphin, I would just lose track of time. I would even lose track of the need to breath. There’s just something about dolphins that give off a vibe that is sort of just transcendent. That’s not to say that dolphins can’t be rowdy, but I never ended up in the water with dolphins that weren’t anything but sort of Zen. Those were the most euphoric moments, they were like a drug really.
Is there something that you hope your readers will learn from the book?
If you do love dolphins one of the best things you can do is really understand them. Really try to understand how they swim 70 to 80 miles a day and how much their relationship with other dolphins is the matrix of their life. They have these exquisite senses: their sonar, their communication ability. Their brain is wired so differently from ours, and it’s 35 million years old. That brain is of an intensely social animal that feels emotions in a very sophisticated way. They’re very self-aware. They have names just like we do. All dolphins have a signature whistle. People need to understand that if a dolphin is in a swimming pool at an aquarium or a resort, it has been taken from its natural life. If you do love dolphins, you wouldn’t want that for a dolphin. We have this nasty habit of loving animals to death. I think part of our evolution will be to understand them and their habitat, and to respect it, as opposed to ruin it. We need to figure out a way that we can all thrive on this ocean planet.
Are there any aquariums you would recommend?
Yeah, there are. I am a huge fan of the Monterey Bay Aquarium everything in it is just the latest knowledge in science. It’s just a big community of scientists studying the ocean. What you don’t see there are dolphin shows or dolphin petting zoos. There really is an education element when you walk through that door. I think you can really tell the difference when the intentions are entertainment versus education. Really learning about the lives of ocean creatures is far more engrossing than watching them perform. The National Aquarium in Baltimore has stopped their dolphin shows. They said it’s an antiquated practice. It’s like watching a bear ride a bicycle, and we know better than that.
Susan Casey’s Voices in the Ocean is available now on Amazon.