4 out of 4 stars
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Living in a landlocked country, I miss the sea. There’s always something new to learn about the variety of ocean-dwelling species and their capabilities as observed by researchers. In his book One Dolphin’s Story: The Life and Times of an Eastern Tropical Pacific Spinner Dolphin, Stanley Michael Minasian introduces a new perspective. As noted in the preface to the book, scientists are supposed only to record observations without subjective interpretation. So if they notice dolphins helping an injured animal, they should refrain from characterizing this as altruism.
Minasian breaks free of these restrictions by turning observations about dolphins into fiction. The novel opens with the underwater birth of an unnamed female dolphin. Staying close to her mother at first, she moves on to playing with other herd members and develops the cooperative skills that the author says are the dolphin way. She survives the shark attacks that claim ailing and weaker dolphins, but life for the Eastern Tropical Pacific Spinners has begun to change. One day, her immediate family and many other herd members suffocate in a tuna net. Having saved a calf that was searching in vain for its mother, our heroine breaks free and joins the diminished herd again. How will they regroup?
The harrowing scene with the net is vividly depicted from the dolphin’s point of view. The author’s ability to ground the descriptions in a dolphin’s experience and understanding was impressive. He does also switch to an omniscient point of view, providing clarity about what is happening as well as commentary on how dolphins reflect and learn; unlike, say, turtles, they do not rely on instinct alone.
A scene where the dolphins play with a turtle is an example of the author’s excellent ability to impart scientific facts through the medium of a story. The dolphins stop spinning the turtle when they detect its increased heartbeat. I enjoyed learning about how they use echolocation to analyse other creatures’ insides, something they also perform on some humans who come to swim with them.
Our heroine uses body analysis to help determine that a human in the water is friendly. Another great thing about this book is that it has got me interested in swimming with dolphins. I had heard that this might be unpleasant for them. There is some truth in that, but it depends on various factors. The details are explained in the book and I encourage you to read it to find out more.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys animal stories and informative fiction. It might not appeal if those things are not to your taste. As I found so much to admire in it, and no real shortcomings, I rate it 4 out of 4 stars. It’s written in a clear style with short chapters. In that connection, it could also be enjoyed by children from about age 10 upwards, with a couple of caveats. The typos weren’t excessive but included some English teachers’ pet peeves like ‘it’s’ instead of ‘its’ and ‘loose’ instead of ‘lose’. Errors in books could be confusing for children. Also, some scenes are upsetting; they made me tear up.
This is because the ocean world depicted by Minasian has its perils as well as its pleasures. Death and danger are of course always part of wild animals’ lives. The dangers in this book, however, go beyond those in the natural order of things. The story highlights the man-made threat to dolphins posed by tuna nets, drawing attention to human-induced damage in general. The book includes a list of organizations working for the protection of dolphins. Overall, this is a delightful, informative, and highly recommended read.
One Dolphin's Story
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