Two years in the life of a pair of captive bottle-nosed dolphins, yeomanly conveyed in the popular-science mode, with a halo of hard science. Back in 1988, Howard and her marine-biology cohorts went forth and kidnapped a couple of dolphins from Tampa Bay. From there they were flown to Santa Cruz to be put under heavy scrutiny. Here is the chronicle of the two years the dolphins were kept in California and the unprecedented follow-up after release, which reads like well-fleshed-out field notes, sometimes too well fleshed out: ""The Ryder truck backed into the fenced compound . . . The crew . . . removed the transporters from the truck by forklift."" Much of the book is given over to the daily life of such a study: the getting-to-know-you period, the first attempts at communication, the training sessions, (the dolphins may well think they're training the trainers, Howard observes), the gathering of data; it adds up to a light-handed evocation of the meat-and-potatoes of research. Howard also rolls out the pure science artillery, with long disquisitions on echolocation (which allows dolphins to paint a picture of their surroundings) and the notions of flexibility and complexity in intelligence. Just when all the (admittedly fascinating) cetacean theory is about to make the reader's mind melt, Howard smartly steps in with a note of humor, e.g., when one of her charges made a ""fart-type noise . . . the dolphins stopped what they were doing and stared at him."" Sophomoric, perhaps, but nonetheless a relief. Dolphins may be directly related to cows and hippopotami, but in Howard's hands they emerge as pleasingly idiosyncratic, foible-ridden beasts, touched with ""a spark of the divine.