Book club: ‘Voices in the Ocean’ by Susan Casey

‘Part science, part memoir, part impassioned plea for change’ – People magazine

A promotional image for ‘Voices in the Ocean’

Throughout human history very few animals have managed to capture our hearts and imagination like the dolphins. Their incredible intelligence, social skills and playful nature allows us to see something of ourselves in them, despite the fact we occupy two completely different worlds. However, our relationship with dolphins (like so many other animals) has been warped over time by our greed and ignorance, leading to dwindling populations in the wild and shameful exploitation in captivity. In her 2015 book ‘Voices in the Ocean’ award-winning journalist Susan Casey explores what it is about these magnificent creatures that captivates us like no other animal and how our devastating actions are pushing them to the brink. Combining personal experiences, scientific literature and various cultural beliefs, she provides a fascinating insight into the ‘wild and haunting world of dolphins’.

After a life-changing experience swimming with spinner dolphins in Hawaii, Casey admits to becoming totally enthralled with the cetaceans and, like so many others who have had similar experiences, believes there is something distinctly human-like about them. After delving into the research she begins to learn much more about the lives of dolphins including their high levels of intelligence, complex social groups, advanced language skills, echolocation abilities and unique personalities. Speaking to dolphin experts, as well as looking at the historic and often alarming experiments that shaped our understanding of these creatures, she helps show us that we do indeed share a lot of characteristics with dolphins. But also that there is something more to them which science cannot fully explain.

Susan Casey swims alongside a pod of dolphins in Hawaii

Following up on this Casey also examines how our similarities with dolphins and their indescribable mysticism has in turn shaped human beliefs. Speaking to a range of dolphin fanatics from different cultures, she tries to piece together what it is about these creatures we find so fascinating. This includes tales of ancient dolphin-centric civilisations and traditional communities who live in harmony alongside them, as well as new age beliefs that dolphins are trans-dimensional beings that open up portals into space and talk to us via telepathy (often as interesting as they are absurd). All of which highlights that their impact on humanity is far more widespread and long lasting than most people realise.

However a large part of this book also focuses on how our relationship with dolphins has been redefined into something much darker in the modern era. In addition to decimating wild populations with pollution, overfishing and a barrage of devastating noise, Casey also exposes the sinister world of dolphin hunting and captivity. By visiting places tainted with dolphin blood, including the Japanese whaling town Taiji and the lawless hunting villages of the Solomon Islands, and speaking to those on both sides of the fence, she highlights the shocking brutality with which we have treated dolphins. She also shows how big ocean theme parks continue to exploit cetaceans for profit and the alarming lack of regulation which allows them to do this, despite their incredible intelligence and human-like personalities.

Killer whales are one of the most intelligent and social animals on the planet, but are forced to perform mundane tricks in isolation for our entertainment

Whilst this can often make for some uncomfortable reading, Casey also shows how these problems can be overcome and highlights a strong shift in public opinions on the topic. In this way she offers up hope that dolphin hunting and mistreatment in captivity could soon become a thing of the past. Instead she encourages us to re-connect with dolphins (and the marine environment) as we have done in the past and once again start to treasure and protect them.

Overall ‘Voices in the Ocean’ is a fantastic one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about dolphins. What makes it such a compelling read is the way in which Casey mixes in her own personal experiences with dolphins into a unique narrative that both educates and entertains the reader. Having fully immersed herself into all aspects of dolphin life very few people can match her perspective and that is something that shines throughout her book. Coupled with her engaging and often hilarious writing style, as well her passion for dolphin conservation, the result is an outstanding book that will forever change how you view our aquatic relatives.


This review is the tenth in our new Marine Madness Book Club! At the beginning of every month we will be releasing a new review of an ocean inspired book and encouraging you to let us know what you think in the comments and via social media. To find out more visit the Book Club page here.

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