Former O, the Oprah Magazine editor-in-chief Casey (The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean, 2010, etc.) takes the measure of the human-dolphin dance.
For hundreds of years, dolphins have been bestowed mythological and cultural significance, been the object of both good and bad scientific study, and been written about countless times. Why? The author gives the reason up front: they are playful, social, and intelligent. They are like us—some of us, anyway, and as Casey learns, only some dolphins as well. The author spins her wheels trying to drive home that unique interface, and some readers may roll their eyes when she waxes poetic on the animal’s profundity or how “they enfolded me into their gathering.” She nails it, however, when she discusses the shattering loss of her father, the subsequent depression, and the liberating exultation in “how ridiculously fun it was to just cruise along with them.” From there, the author runs through her experiences on her dolphin quest, from the classic scientific studies of Roger Payne to their totemic importance to the Pacific Northwest to their wild ride on TV: “After the Flipper movie grossed $8 million in 1963, the dolphin, a kind of aquatic house pet on steroids, was given his own TV show….The show’s plots were cartoonish and fantastical but they struck a booming chord.” Casey also delves into the miseries of dolphin factory farming and how other scientists have come close to realizing John Lilly’s conviction “that the dolphin in the tank is not a what but a who.” The most moving section of the book follows the author’s visit to Crete, where she viewed the ancient frescoes and mosaics (some underwater) of dolphins, demonstrating their significance across ages.
“Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine,” said astrophysicist Arthur Eddington. “It is stranger than we can imagine.” That sublime wildness is exactly what Casey, ever the adventurer, reveals in this flawed but still entertaining book.