BONUS BOOK: Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins by Susan Casey

“But a funny thing happens when you refuse to compromise your heart’s desires: after years of contending with all manner of uncertainties and obstacles, life yields and pours itself into a you-shaped mold, one that has never existed before.”

Genre: Nonfiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Inspired by a profound experience swimming with wild dolphins off the coast of Maui, Susan Casey sets out on a quest to learn everything about these creatures. Her journey takes her from a community in Hawaii known as “Dolphinville,” where the animals are seen as the key to spiritual enlightenment, to the dark side of the human-cetacean relationship at marine parks and dolphin-hunting grounds in Japan and the Solomon Islands, to the islands of Crete, where the Minoan civilization lived in harmony with dolphins, providing a millennia-old example of a more enlightened coexistence with the natural world. Along the way, Casey examines the colorful history of dolphin research and introduces us to the leading marine scientists and activists who have made it their life’s work to increase humans’ understanding and appreciation of the wonder of dolphins – the other intelligent life on the planet.

Review: This is my first Susan Casey novel, although The Devil’s Teeth has been high on my list for awhile now. After finishing Voices in the Ocean, I came to the conclusion that some chapters were really well done (such as Greetings from Hawaii: We’re Having a Blast! and Thera) and some were really, really abysmal (particularly High Frequency). Good things first! When Casey chose to focus on the more scientific aspects of dolphins and dolphin research, she typically did a great job of crafting a narrative that flowed but was also informative. I also have to commend her on finding the words to so clearly express how I feel about cetaceans in captivity. The following quotes helped my thoughts and feelings take on a more solid form, by way of words.

“But even if dolphins are being served tuna sashimi in suites at the Four Seasons, the truth remains that in captivity their lives are hollowed out. In a concrete tank none of their expertise is needed, none of their exquisite adaptations developed through eons in the ocean, not their sonar or their hunting skills or their communication abilities. The pods that sustain them are no longer part of their world.”

In particular, several of Casey’s musings regarding orca captivity (specifically concerning the orcas Tilikum and Lolita) really resonated with me as well:

On Tilikum:

“Tilikum’s real orca existence has been preempted, replaced by the Shamu soundtrack.”

“He is nobody’s cartoon character, and yet all the ocean’s magnificent possibilities are lost to him.”

“He is the wildest of creatures who will never get the chance to be wild.”

And on Lolita:

“To view aerial footage of 18-foot Lolita looping endlessly in her 35-foot-wide tank is to despair on a cellular level.”

I also really loved that the last chapter of Voices in the Ocean focused on how a lost civilization (the Minoans) idolized and revered dolphins, and how that genuine respect is easily visible when examining Minoan art. It was an art-history-meets-marine-biology spin on things that authors rarely take, which made it very refreshing. Casey is an excellent writer and, for the most part, her way of writing really spoke to me. That being said, I was not necessarily a fan of how she chose to designate chapters in her book. I’m sorry, but when you’re given the whole world of interesting dolphin facts to explore and you choose to fixate on some bizarre, New Age theories that toss around ideas like dolphin sonar as “an advanced form of expression that can alter reality, open[ing] up portals into other dimensions,” you quickly lose my interest and my trust. I mean, I understand Casey’s fascination with Joan Ocean (essentially the mayor of Dolphinville). But it felt like a waste of time to read about Casey’s experience at one of Ocean’s workshops, where Ocean says that the dolphins she regularly swims with told her the following:

“They said there are ET vehicles underwater. They travel the waters of the planet and there are docking places where the dolphins can actually swim inside these spaceships. They showed me a picture of them.”

I’m sorry, but WHY does this craziness get not one, but TWO whole chapters? I also felt like Casey’s writing could be a bit duplicitous at times, with her making solid statements when I know that some of her topics have shades of gray. As someone who reads a lot of books on marine mammals, Voices in the Ocean didn’t feel like the most thoroughly researched one. I felt like Casey added a lot of her own opinions into the text and let the entire narrative be swayed by her feelings. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it wasn’t what I expected from a book that is largely marketed as scientific. I think Voices in the Ocean is a good introduction to the fascinating world of dolphins (as seen through Casey’s lens). But there are plenty of other dolphin books I would sooner recommend if someone told me they were really interested in expanding their knowledge of dolphins.

“Some people crave illicit substances when upset; my drug of choice is saltwater.”




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