Susan Casey’s Voices in the Ocean made me fall deeply in love with dolphins, those intelligent, highly social mammals of the sea, then tore my heart out by describing the appalling abuses they receive at the hands of our species. Deeply sad after her father died unexpectedly, Casey was in the middle of a perhaps ill advised solo swim across Honolua Bay when she encountered a large pod, forty or fifty animals, of gently chattering spinner dolphins swimming toward her. Instead of just passing by, they swam with her for a while, lifting her spirits almost like magic and setting her on a worldwide dolphin odyssey.
Casey traveled to some wonderfully quirky places, like the new-agey Dolphinville on Hawaii’s Big Island, where 200-some people live, work, meditate, and swim with wild dolphins together. But she also visited marine parks and tourist pleasing “swim with the dolphins” sites, where community-loving dolphins are isolated and kept in slave like conditions, and she connected with dolphin activists in several parts of the world where dolphins are slaughtered in mass numbers, often because it’s believed they eat fish that should be food for people and sometimes, even more horribly, just for spite. Sea pollution and the US Navy’s underwater sonar are other human activities that have had a devastating impact on dolphins.
Along the way Casey sought out researchers who’ve studied dolphins, so the book is a mixture of science, history, personal experience, and social commentary. It’s beautifully and movingly written, and I especially loved reading about the evolutionary background of dolphins, the special qualities their large brains endow them with, the eons long and mostly wonderful history of human-dolphin interactions, and the fascinating characteristics of dolphin societies–Casey compares them to an ancient tribe.
The abuses were painful to read about, but I’m glad to be better informed. And Casey ends the book on an up note by summarizing what is known about the intriguing, apparently dolphin-loving Minoan civilization and describing her visit to the art-rich Minoan archaeological sites and museums of Santorini and Crete– Minoan art is both colorful and beautiful, and definitely worth Google-imaging.