Tom Mustill’s “How to Speak Whale” is a love letter to life

After the astonishment, what? Naturalist and filmmaker Tom Mustill thought he was going to die when a 30-ton humpback whale jumped and landed on the two-person kayak he was piloting near Monterey. The massive impact drove him and his co-pilot deep into the ocean, but when they surfaced, miraculously still alive, he “was elated. What a thing to look at, to feel.” The incident, captured on a phone by a bystander, went viral, with more than six million views (you can watch it here); a whale specialist saw it and told Mustill that the whale “turned and veered” on purpose to cut them off rather than land squarely and almost certainly kill them. After such an experience, some people would never venture near water again. Others could capitalize on their viral celebrity, or follow Ahab’s route, spending the rest of their lives searching for the whale that nearly finished them off, for revenge. On the other hand, there is the path Mustill chose, determining instead to find the answer to this question: “What, if anything, was the hunchback who jumped on us trying to say?”

Mustill’s eagerness to figure this out sent him on a journey of inquiry through everything we know and don’t know about how species, particularly whales and other marine mammals, communicate with each other and sometimes, with us. The result is a thoughtful, comprehensive, and moving book that blends history, reporting, science, and Mustill’s own process around his near-death collision with a gigantic sentient being from another world. Like the documentary my octopus teachermemoirs of helen mcdonald H is for falconRichard Powers novel the top storyor Ed Yong a huge worldwhich explores the wildly divergent and often extraordinary sensory abilities of a myriad of animals, how to speak whale it is in many ways a love letter to all life on this planet besides our own: its beauty, its profound strangeness, its power, and our often unrequited longing to understand and connect with it. And, as with any current exploration of the natural world, the book is also full of pain about how much of that wonderland is gone, or is going. Mustill refers to himself at one point as “kind of a war reporter by nature”.

Mustill’s book, of course, doesn’t tell you how to speak whale or any other animal language. It’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that Google Translate from animal to human communication doesn’t exist yet. Furthermore, although we humans confuse vocalization with language, and although it is clear that animals communicate with each other, it does not follow that animal vocalization is “animal language” or that vocalization in the way that our species is the only way communication can be possible. occur. After all, when your cat curls up around your legs at the same time every night, you know he wants dinner, meow or not. Part of the considerable pleasure of how to speak whale, in fact, is the tension between all the facts that Mustill discovers and the mysteries that remain unsolved. He interviews scientists, whale song researchers, AI innovators, the academics who created the Cetacean Translation Initiative, and underwater videographers, among others, explaining the vast amount of tantalizing empirical evidence that what we call “whale song” it is a created, modeled. , he rhymes, collaborative sonic thing that whales do with intent and innovation. However, to this day, no one really knows why. Mustill writes: “Whales of Greenland, which can live for more than two centuries, sing songs that have been compared to jazz.” What are they doing? we don’t know Dozens of researchers, equipped with increasingly sophisticated equipment, have spent decades with whales and other marine mammals, trying to translate what’s going on in their heads. Some of the results are unintentionally comical. When a leading cetacean expert painstakingly set up an underwater mirror to see if the dolphins could pass the famous “mirror self-recognition test,” the gold standard of self-awareness and what we think of as consciousness, two young male dolphins passed with flying colors. success. , then he used the mirror for “‘sequential intrusion attempts’…meaning they had sex and looked at themselves.” Have fun, play with us or both?

When Mustill goes swimming with the humpback whales near the end, he speaks of the sublime experience of “being seen by something incomprehensible and huge.” A whale begins to sing and basically goes underwater in song. “My lungs, air spaces and limbs vibrated, and I felt like I had become the medium I was speaking in.” Does it matter if we know what the whale was “saying”? Literally vibrating with mystery, Mustill’s clear answer is no. “What matters,” he writes, “is that they are there.”

Stacey D’Erasmo’s novel the complicities, in which a whale plays a major role, has just come out.

This content is imported from OpenWeb. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may find more information on their website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.