How To Speak Whale: A Voyage into the Future of Animal Communication

Grand Central. Sept. 2022. 304p. ISBN 9781538739112. $29.00. SCI
Following a close encounter with a breaching humpback whale, biologist-turned filmmaker Mustill sets about answering the question of whether humans and whales will one day be able to communicate with each other. While the book’s focus is on cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), broader issues of the possibility of interspecies communication are addressed from anatomical, neurological, social, technological, and even philosophical perspectives. Not only does Mustill connect with scientists around the world who consider the differing mechanics of how people and whales produce and receive sounds and gestures, but he also explores what is culturally important enough to express in words, and whether definitions of language, communication, and intelligence are too anthropocentric to even apply to non-human species. Finally, he surveys current data-gathering and artificial-intelligence projects that are programming machines to collect, analyze, and interpret vast amount of audio data from whales and other animals. The ultimate question of Mustill’s book is whether enabling interspecies communication will make people value other species more. His attention to detail—perhaps from his work as a nature documentary filmmaker—immerses readers in each step of discovery and lends immediacy and personality to the writing.
VERDICT Environmentalists and general science enthusiasts will enjoy joining Mustill on his quest to understand whales.
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