What if animals and humans could speak to one another? Tom Mustill—the nature documentarian who went viral when a thirty‑ton humpback whale breached onto his kayak—asks this question in his investigation into whale science and animal communication.
... a thoughtful, wide-ranging, and moving book that combines history, reportage, science, and Mustill’s own process around his near-death collision with a mammoth sentient being from another world ... Part of the considerable pleasure of How to Speak Whale, in fact, is the tension between all the facts Mustill uncovers and the mysteries that remain undeciphered.
... a mix of thoughtfully explained hard science and colorfully described hands-on adventures (a beachside whale dissection is particularly memorable) ... Thanks to Mustill’s gift for storytelling, it’s as interesting to learn about these experts as the creatures they study. Reidenberg is a particular delight, as is Dr. Roger Payne, whose album of whale song recordings went multiplatinum in 1970. Through it all, there runs an undercurrent of appreciation and wonderment as Mustill gulps down knowledge and determinedly questions whether 'decoding animal communications [is] no longer a fantasy but a technical problem' ... Wild (and thrilling!) as that may seem, Mustill’s findings offer hope that someday a book called How to Speak Whale might be more dictionary than discussion, more conversation than exploration.
It’s certainly plausible that the kinds of algorithms that have extracted the expertise of human translators from the world’s literature could map the semantic space of the sperm whale’s grunts and clicks, and respond in kind. But it hasn’t happened yet, which condemns Mr. Mustill to the realms of enthusiastic speculation. How to Speak Whale arrives too late to capitalize on his kayaking encounter and too early for any whale to have actually been spoken.