A cetologist chronicles her 25 field-season summers studying generations of Atlantic spotted dolphins.
Beginning in 1985, Herzing, then in her early 30s, traveled to an area in the Bahamas, a known home to families of friendly dolphins, and began tracking them, analyzing behavioral traits and the courting and mating habits of what she believes to be “one of the most advanced nonhuman intelligence on the planet.” Initially taking an anthropological approach, she quickly realized that an interactive, participatory methodology would play a more critical role in her research. So she dove in, equipped with scuba gear, cameras and a “hydrophone” for video-recording the dolphins’ highly expressive underwater vocalizations and behavior. Herzing passionately writes of her first summer cautiously immersed in the marine mammal’s world of clicks and whistles, their playtime and foreplay and in naming the dolphins and ultimately reconstructing elaborate family trees. Though it would take her five years to establish some semblance of shared trust and solace with the apprehensive dolphin pods, the many summers that followed only served to reinforce the author’s enthusiasm and perseverance for the wide-eyed observation of mothers and calves, their babysitting mystique, intricate interspecies relations (humans included) and elaborate communication coding. The author’s liberal use of “anthropomorphizing” (ascribing emotions to the dolphins) only adds to the exploration’s allure, especially when threatening elements like storms, dangerous water currents and hungry sharks enter the picture. Herzing’s fervent work became disrupted, however, by three hurricanes the 2004-5 seasons, which displaced many of the dolphins she’d been meticulously documenting. Inspired by the pioneering work of Jacques Cousteau, Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, Herzing’s focused, captivating account concludes with moving animal-rights arguments centered around the injustices foisted upon defenseless cetaceans and the many other species senselessly killed or held in cruel captivity.Solid, fascinating spadework.