Dolphin Diaries is the one book you must read if you love, like or care about dolphins. This is Dr. Denise L. Herzing's much-anticipated narrative of her first 25 years literally immersing herself in the lives of a unique community of Atlantic spotted dolphins off the Bahamas. Dolphin Diaries is an unequalled exploration of the generational lives of the dolphins she knows, and who know her, proof of the accolades comparing her to Goodall, Moss, Fossey, Strum and the very few others who have revolutionized our knowledge of the lives of creatures we think of as different, but with whom we share so much. Like them, she built relationships, etiquette and rapport, to gain the dolphins' trust and interest.
On one level Dolphin Diaries is like a novel written through the eyes of a lyrical observer strolling through a small village, meeting friends, making sense of what's on people's minds as they interact with each other, occasionally invited into a game, discussion or party, all while painting vignettes that makes the scene vividly real. But Dolphin Diaries is fact, not fiction, and while it's about dolphins the point Herzing gets across well is that we share with them more than some humans are comfortable to admit. About an event involving Zigzag, a young male, she writes: "It would be impossible to not be self aware and empathetic for such an event to occur. There is no doubt in my mind that dolphins are both."
On another level this book has more scientific facts about these dolphins than any single scientific paper, but it's such easy reading you may not be aware that you're learning the very leading edge, not just about this species, but about the value of long-term interactive research conducted "in their world, on their terms". She laments that "the process of spending time with the natural world is in jeopardy, causing us to lose sight of it while at the same time we are trying to measure it." She thinks "it is a loss for the world, to reduce animals to data, instead of telling their story". Herzing recognized from the start that her scientific obligation to describe her observations accurately required her to make use of cetology's scarlet letter "A", and by example she sets the professional standard for using anthropomorphic terms properly to communicate the reality of dolphin life. Until someone invents a suitable vocabulary for non-human animal behavior no scientist is justified to ignore what is obvious, but they do.
And there's another level, as Herzing accounts for her decades of struggle to create, fund and manage what amounts to a yearly research expedition to find highly mobile creatures in a vast, remote region, always to do no harm, to stay as long as it's safe, and to bring back reams of data about a world humans are ill-equipped to sense, understand, or survive. She expresses this as her "moving between the human world and the dolphin world, finding different type of food that feed my soul". As rare as her qualities are my hope is that a kindred spirit will be inspired by her example, as she was by Goodall, to take on another species "in their world, on their terms".
And last, she advocates, freely filling the end of her book by taking on many of the issues of concern to CSI and so many others today. Again she stands out from most of her peers, as very few professional scientists go beyond gathering data they might hope someone will use, but they don't voice their opinions or advocate their concerns. Herzing's status among peers will amplify what she says, and truly help cetaceans and the oceans.
Her Wild Dolphin Project is a continuing reality because of her unique abilities, hard lessons learned well, and of course the support of many people and foundations that have fairly judged this single project to be worthy of their dedication. She also gets to lead dolphins once in a while, by their choice, having respectfully earned her place among them. She makes it look easy, but it's far, far beyond what most could do.
OK, so I liked the book! In fact I'll read it again. Thanks, Denise!