Tom Mustill’s audio book How to speak whale: A voyage into the future of animal communication transported me under the waves. With my dog Scamper, nestled next to me, enchanting whale songs embraced me, as my heart sang and my lips curled into a smile.

A humpback investigates author Tom Mustill in Dominica
Humpback Whale 
Photo by Tom Mustill

I was enraptured as ocean life was translated into a pitch audible to us: clicking seahorses, clip-clopping sea urchins and a foghorn-like humming from a plainfin midshipman fish sitting on her nest. I learnt that, in most bird species, both females and males sing; though we’ve yet to discover sonorous female whales or dolphins. As we know little of what these noises mean, scientists around the world are now using Artificial Intelligence to help us understand more, starting with the enigmatic whales. How is this relevant I hear you ask? Well, though we often forget, we humans are animals too.

Learning how to communicate with whales (and other animals), will help us to connect with and deepen our understanding of them, bringing with it a sense of empathy and care. Typically, we nurture those we have affection for; concerned for their future. We will see how similar we are; as I discovered that dolphins have unique calls for each other, akin to a name. How our lives are interconnected through the vast web of life; bound together through a need to eat, sleep, and survive. As Greta Thunberg eloquently states in the film Nature Now, “Because we are part of nature when we protect nature, we are nature protecting itself.” Yes, our actions have harmed the planet but equally we can be part of the solution by each of us taking small simple steps to help heal the earth. I recycle plastic bags and use them for dog poo; in the Malvern Hills they have a scheme that uses dog waste to produce methane that fuels a street light!

I met Tom, a decade ago, as joint recipients of an opportunity to make a 5-minute science film for the public. He was a scientist and filmmaker. I was an ecologist intrigued by film making. I was drawn to his book as I’m fascinated by both whales and animal communication.

As a child I pored over glossy images of these majestic animals; dreaming of life amongst the seas whilst I lived in landlocked Nottingham.  I gazed at whale posters spanning my walls as I listened to their songs on cassettes. I learnt to scuba dive. Went whale watching to see Humpbacks breach, awed by their acrobatics. Though my career became terrestrial, by marrying my lifelong partner, my surname became Dolphin. I regularly read the Snail and the Whale to my own Dolphin calf.

Emma Dolphin with Scamper
Emma Dolphin with Scamper

The sea calls me: for dog walks that refresh my spirit; body boarding with my son to bring out my inner child; my first wild swim at Jacobs Ladder; snorkelling at Wembury Marine Nature Reserve; fossil hunting; searching for Sidmouth’s Sammy Seal and touring dolphin pods.

I’ve spent many happy hours in the company of animals. I feel they’ve taught me how to be a better human; to find joy in simple daily pleasures just by paying attention to them. Scamper offers a compassionate paw when we’re at a low ebb; tells me she’s hungry by switching her gaze between me and the food counter, her tail wagging enthusiastically.

Our chicken coop squabbles remind me how our friendships evolve, periods of intimacy that wax and wane like the moon’s cycle. Each has their own unique pitch of trumpet-like sounds such as our cockerel singing the first few bars of the Mission Impossible Theme tune when danger looms. Some chickens, as some whales, are very sociable. Sooty would sit, sentinel like on my shoulder and waddle down the garden to greet me. Ghost, the friendly roadrunner, takes no nonsense from the cockerel, earning both his respect and mine.

I’m excited to think that in my lifetime we’ll learn to speak whale and I’m hopeful they will speak back.

With thanks to Tom Mustill for his Humpback Whale photo

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