Cover Image: How to Speak Whale

How to Speak Whale

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Member Reviews

Thanks to Netgalley and Grand Central Publishing for the ARC of this!

I’m catching up on some of my backlog in an attempt to fix my reviewed percentage for this year, so I picked up the audio from my library as well. The audio was really well done, especially if you: get excited for books read by the author and/or want to hear whale sounds between him discussing them.

This had a lot of fascinating information about whales, research, and how different fields overlap - I especially was interested in how SETI is looking at whale speech, as we’ve just done a unit on alien research in our homeschool. I liked the author’s anecdotes about his interactions with whales throughout the discussion of research.

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In 2015, Tom Mustill went on a kayak sightseeing adventure of a lifetime. Off the coast of California in a two-person kayak, Tom was able to see a humpback whale breach- right on top of him. Lucky to survive, Tom, a wildlife filmmaker, began to look deeper into his experience. Several onlookers caught the breach on their phones. After looking at grainy footage, Tom seemed to agree that the whale seemed to change course in the air. This led him to a series of questions: did the whale change course on purpose? Can whales communicate with humans? and how? From these questions, Tom dove into the science of language, animal communication and cetacean behavior and biology.

Tom's journey into whale communication goes down many different paths, eventually converging into the many reasons we should protect these amazing mammals of the ocean. Written with many personal stories and anecdotes sprinkled throughout with science, How To Speak Whale, is an easy and entertaining read for any whale lover. Beginning with human interaction with whales and answering the question of why we might want to study these amazing creatures. This leads to whale biology and the organs and methods that whales use to communicate with one another. I have always loved whale songs and I was amazed with the complexity of their vocal organs as well as how scientists get to study them. From there, Tom dives into the study of animal language and the amazing jumps in learning that we have taken to understand the other animal species around us. Technology and artificial intelligence have been a huge help in assisting humans to understand animal language and sound. This technology has the ability to hear and recognize patterns and sounds that humans can't hear and is helping scientists as well as the average person learn and appreciate more about animals every day. Overall, humans still don't know how to completely speak whale, but we have learned that whales may know more about communicating with us than we realize.

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How to Speak Whale is a beautifully written, layman accessible monograph on cross-species communication by Tom Mustill. Released 6th Sept 2022 by Hachette on their Grand Central imprint, it's 304 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. Paperback format due out from the same publisher in late 3rd quarter 2023. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

The book is layman accessible, and I found it a fascinating read. It's well annotated (and the chapter notes and index links make for fascinating further reading) but doesn't get bogged down in overly academic language. This is popular science writing - not an academic study guide or textbook. The author does present a broad range of species and behaviors. It's clear he's knowledgeable and deeply, profoundly respectful. There are a handful of popular science and zoology writers who have the gift of writing layman accessibly and engagingly on their topics of expertise, and he has a deft and engaging touch.

Five stars. Heartily recommended for readers of science, ecology, and similar subjects.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

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Both heartfelt and articulate. Staying up to date in science is really impossible with a book. This is why scientists rely on journals. Also, we rely on peer-reviewed journals. This book doesn't replace science. This is a book that demonstrates that science is not the only way of knowing the world. Readers will be encouraged to value their own experiences in nature and that is a valid reason for reading this work.

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Ever since watching Finding Nemo for the first time years ago, I have wanted to speak whale. Listening to Dory insist that she could and finding out that that was in fact the truth, brought the idea of language into the animal kingdom for me. The idea of Dory speaking whale like I would speak French or Japanese was such an interesting concept. Tom Mustill's How to Speak Whale, beginning with his own confrontation with the idea of these animals speaking and understanding, is intriguing. Though admittedly, Mustill's encounter with whale communication is much more dramatic, up close and personal than mine, the ideas that he explores resonate deeply with my own curiosity. Containing stories of animal communication beyond just the whales, as well as an exploration of the science behind his own search for answers and discoveries, How to Speak Whale is part adventure, part science report, and part nature journal. For me, it is a perfect blend of the three to keep me interested, entertained, and infinitely curious. Books like this, and the desire to learn about ideas like this, are essential not only to the protection of nature and our world, but also to the understanding of ourselves as humans. Learning more about how we relate to other species and vice versa gives us a better understanding of how we fit into a much bigger picture. This book was a very enjoyable jump into these questions, a few answers, and most importantly more questions to continue to explore.

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What an adventure! Mustill uses an almost Hitchcockian narration – he starts by describing a near-death experience during whale-watching and then takes a reader on a mindblowing journey, both in geographic and intellectual terms. His curiosity, fueled by this unforgettable encounter, drives him to fascinating places and meetings with extraordinary people. While this is mainly a popular science book, it also blends in travelog, nature, and even tech writing. The first-person perspective works perfectly, engaging the reader, and the style is fresh and witty.

I first read about this book in a New Yorker piece by Elizabeth Kolbert, in which she also wrote about the latest Ed Yong book, “An Immense World” – and I think that if you like both of those authors, you will love “How to Speak Whale” as well.

Thanks to the publisher, Grand Central Publishing, and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book.

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