All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Voices In The Ocean by Susan Casey

on April 14, 2021

Voices In The Ocean
Susan Casey
Scribe Publications
2015, 320p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/}: Since the dawn of history, humans have felt a kinship with dolphins. But these playful aquatic creatures are also mysterious: scientists still don’t fully understand their sophisticated navigation and communication abilities, or their complicated brains.

In 2010, following her father’s death, Susan Casey had a remarkable encounter with a pod of spinner dolphins off the coast of Maui. It inspired her on a two-year global adventure to learn about these beautiful animals. Casey visits a Hawaiian community that believes dolphins are the key to enlightenment; travels to Ireland to meet ‘the world’s most loyal dolphin’, and visits Crete to explore the ancient Minoans’ interdependence on the animals.

Yet dolphins are also the subjects of a sinister lucrative global trade. Casey’s reportage takes her to the harrowing epicentre in the Solomon Islands, and to the Japanese town of Taiji, made infamous by the Oscar–winning documentary The Cove, where she chronicles protests against the annual slaughter of dolphins.

In the tradition of Susan Orlean and Donovan Hohn, Voices in the Ocean is a thrilling, compassionate, imperative account of the other intelligent life on the planet.

This was one of the more harrowing books I’ve ever read.

I picked it up for the 2021 Non-Fiction Reader Challenge, which is hosted by Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out. Shelleyrae has hosted this challenge for a couple of years now, with 12 prompts based around non-fiction themes and for people that might be struggling for something, she writes posts with several selections for each prompt. Shelleyrae featured this book for the Oceanology prompt and my local library had it so I thought it’d be a good choice. It’s about dolphins and I adore dolphins.

I mean, who doesn’t right? They’re lovely. It looks like they’re smiling at you. They’re well known to be incredibly intelligent animals with sophisticated communication system with a high ability to learn. They’re also apparently, one of the few species that recognise themselves in a mirror. They’ve earned themselves a reputation of often being playful and even helpful to and with humans, assisting in guiding people to rescue those in trouble as well as protecting or defending humans from sharks. However, not all the stories are as positive and dolphins are capable of inflicting serious damage on humans who get too close or in situations where there is forced interaction. Because of their intelligence and ability to learn tricks, dolphins have been popular additions to marine parks where they perform for audiences and are offered up in animal interaction encounters.

But as this book delves into, humans have been responsible for some horrific treatment of cetaceans, from experiments in poking at their brains in the 1960s to keeping them in filthy tanks to herding them in the wild and slaughtering them relentlessly to subjecting them to underwater sonar that some people believe might be the equivalent of torture for beings of their development and sensitivity. This book details some of the many atrocities committed by humans against many species of dolphins and at times, it’s traumatising reading. To think of these lovely creatures being herded into a bay in Japan and slaughtered, despite the fact that it’s generally regarded that they are too high in mercury for human consumption, or to be sold to marine parks around the world that comply with no regulations, is very distressing. Likewise, the Solomon Islands were responsible for the slaughter of almost 1000 animals a day – parts of the country use dolphin teeth as currency for things like bride prices.

The author has a fascination with dolphins, developed after an experience where she swam with them and she seeks out other people who seem to feel the same as well. As well as information on the bad things done by humans to dolphins in certain situations, there’s also stories of those that love the creatures and fight for them in various ways, such as the dedication by a man who was a former trainer for Flipper. Since that, he “saw the light” so to speak and changed his focus to conservation, awareness and protection and he travels to globe, including to the places like the bay in Japan (the focus of an award-winning documentary called The Cove which in many places, can be found on Netflix). As well as focusing on more popular dolphins that people are aware of, like the bottlenose, the book showcases the plight of other species’ as well, including those like the Orca whale and the Beluga, both of which do not do so well in captivity. Part of this is probably their sheer size, it’s very difficult to build an environment that replicates the ocean and these animals cover thousands of kilometres in their travels. I think most people are aware of Blackfish, the documentary focusing on the Orca Tikilum, who over the course of his lifetime, was responsible for the death of three people: two keepers at two separate aquariums and a third person, a man who evaded leaving the park after closing time and for some unknown reason, climbed into his tank. It’s hard to lay blame at the foot of a creature but what I found astounding was the fact that after the death of Dawn Brancheau, OSHA restricted the contact between orcas and their trainers to what was necessary for their care and medical needs. Sea World sued OSHA to continue trainer-orca shows/interactions (they lost). Although they later claimed to be phasing out orca shows, as of 2020 they were apparently still doing them. In a time where a lot of places have moved away from performing animal shows and heavy keeper/public interaction with animals, it doesn’t really feel like Sea World are embracing the changing tides.

There are some sections of this book that I didn’t enjoy or found bizarre, such as the sections on Joan Ocean and her crew who have some very out there beliefs. To be honest I found those parts a bit boring and even though it showcases the different responses dolphins evoke in people…some are honestly just not really worth reading about. Some of the stories were hard to read, such as the Taiji dolphin hunt in Japan, the experiments done on dolphins in years gone by (featuring such anecdotes as dolphins who died after being dropped on concrete, who were taught to jab a buzzer to be stimulated in the pleasure part of their brain and did it so often until they seized and died, as well as countless other depressing things) and other stories such as dolphins who died after 16hr rave was held next to their place of captivity in Europe. It seems there’s a lot we do not understand about their sonar capabilities and at one stage, the author visits a park in the Dominican Republic, which plays relentless pounding techno music. So much so that Casey finds it intolerable and she wonders how the dolphins and other sea creatures must feel.

This made me examine my own hypocrisies as well, because I have witnessed dolphin shows in the past and have wanted to swim with them. After reading this, I’d never pay to swim with dolphins at a marine park, nor would I be interested in seeing them perform for human entertainment. But I’ve also visited zoos and it makes me realise that in terms of zoos, it’s easier to create environments for them that more closely match their real life habitats. For the most part, most zoos contain animals born in captivity with strict breeding programs that require international cooperation and participation, to preserve their species, or ones who are rescued from the wild without chance of release. A large portion of large marine animals in captivity (such as dolphins, belugas, orcas, etc) seem to be captured in the wild as babies as they do not tend toward long lives nor are breeding programs always successful. And when they teach animals to do tricks – are they breeding them because they want to preserve them, or because they want to continue to make money out of them?

An eye-opening read.


Book #57 of 2021

Voices In The Ocean is the second book read for the 2021 NonFiction Reader Challenge. I’m using it to tick off the category of Oceanography

1. Biography

2. Travel

3. Self-help

4. Essay Collection

5. Disease

6. Oceanography 

7. Hobbies

8. Indigenous Cultures

9. Food

10. Wartime Experiences

11. Inventions

12. Published in 2021

2/6 books complete for the challenge. Progress!

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