Inspired by an encounter with a pod of spinner dolphins off the coast of Maui, author Susan Casey embarked on a two-year global adventure to study these remarkable beings. Casey details the extraordinary connection between dolphins and humans, including shared characteristics such as capacity for emotion, playfulness, sociability, and intelligence, the sophisticated navigation ability innate in dolphins, and the dangers they face from people who aim to profit by putting them in captivity or far worse. Includes an 8-page photo insert that offers a glimpse of these magical creatures in their natural habitat.
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|Publisher:||Random House Children's Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||10 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
To get to Hawaii from anywhere in the world, you must fly for at least six hours across the Pacific Ocean. If you look out the window during that time, you will see only water below you, and maybe a few clouds. Though they are officially part of the United States—the fiftieth state, to be exact—the Hawaiian Islands are the most remote lands on Earth, surrounded in all directions by thousands of miles of salt water. Which was exactly why I wanted to be there.
I’d flown to the island of Maui to escape everything in my life. I wanted to run as far as possible from my apartment in New York City, from the concrete and gray skies and traffic and breathless crush of Manhattan. Most of all, I was hoping to escape my feelings of sadness.
Two years earlier, my father had died suddenly of a heart attack, and since then, sorrow had followed me around like a dark fog. Dad’s death took our family totally by surprise. He was seventy-one years old and athletic and strong, and he had collapsed at our summer cottage, walking down to the lake. I still couldn’t believe he was really gone.
In some far corner of my mind, I had always known, as every person does, that my father wouldn’t be around forever, but the idea of losing him was so big and overwhelming that I never gave it any space. He had inspired me to roam the world making mistakes and having adventures; he had urged me to follow my dreams and to believe in myself. “You can do anything you put your mind to,” he’d told me. Through years of ups and downs, joys and frustrations, my father was the person I’d always counted on for support, encouragement, confidence, love. Whatever happened, I could trust he’d be there to help me make sense of it. Only now, he wasn’t.
Everybody copes with grief in their own way. Some people turn to family and friends. Others take comfort in spiritual beliefs, or in the peace and beauty of nature. The one thing that has always made me feel better is swimming. Being in any body of water is soothing to me, but I especially love to swim in the ocean. So on my last day on Maui, I’d driven across the island to visit Honolua Bay, a spot that Native Hawaiians had long held sacred. The bay was postcard-pretty but also rugged: it was surrounded by steep cliffs and ringed with a rocky shoreline. There were no soft sand beaches here.
I drove up a steep red-dirt road and pulled over at the top. Usually this lookout was crowded, but on this day the weather was dreary and no one else was around. I got out and walked to the edge of the embankment. Below me waves crashed, their crests whipped white by the wind. Rain clouds pressed down, turning the turquoise water a dull navy color.
Conditions were crummy, but this particular bay was known for its beauty, its lush coral reefs and colorful fish, so I didn’t want to leave without at least taking a dip. I wouldn’t have another chance to swim here for a long time: the following day I would be on a plane flying home.
But there was a problem, and it was more than the weather. I’d read in the local newspaper that a recent flurry of shark attacks here had people thinking twice about going into the water alone, or even at all. Swimmers and surfers wondered nervously why the sharks seemed so hungry, but no one had any answers. I stood in the wind thinking about this, and after a few moments spent listening to my mind spin tales of lost limbs, severed arteries, nothing left of me but a few scraps of bathing suit, I picked my way down the path and across the rocks, stepped into the shallows, and began to swim.
The water was dark and kind of spooky at first, but that didn’t stop me. Since my dad’s death I’d felt numb, as though I were sleepwalking. What could be worse than life without the person I loved most? Tiger sharks seemed like a minor concern.
As I headed across the mouth of the bay I veered out to sea, until I was a half mile offshore. Treading water, I cleared my goggles and looked around. The visibility was good, better than expected. I could see all the way down to the seafloor, and conditions were smoother out here, so I kept swimming.
Ten minutes later, I was about to turn back to shore when a movement caught my eye: a large gray body passed below me. Then a dorsal fin broke the surface. Streaks of sunlight broke through the clouds, and suddenly the water was illuminated. My heart raced as the creatures revealed themselves.
It was a pod of spinner dolphins, forty or fifty animals, swimming toward me. They emerged from the ocean like ghosts, shimmering in the water. One moment they were barely visible, then they were gone, and then they reappeared on all sides, surrounding me.
I had never been this close to dolphins before, and I was amazed by their appearance. One of the bigger spinners approached slowly, watching me. For a moment we hung there and looked at one another, exchanging what I can only describe as a greeting. His eyes were banded delicately with black, markings that trailed to his pectoral fins like a bank robber’s mask. I wondered if he was the pod’s guardian, if the others followed his lead. The dolphins were traveling in small clusters of two and three, and they maintained close body contact. I saw fins touching, bellies brushing across backs, heads tilted toward other heads, beaks slipped under flukes.
The entire pod could have darted away in an instant, but they chose instead to stay with me. Spinners are known for their athletics, leaping out of the water whenever the urge strikes, but these dolphins were relaxed. They showed no fear even though they were traveling with several baby spinners, calves the size of bowling pins tucked in beside their mothers. The dolphins had simply enfolded me in their gathering, and I could hear their clicks and buzzes underwater, their aquatic conversation.
I dove down and the big dolphin appeared beside me again, even closer. He had markings like a penguin’s, dark on top and white on his belly, with a slender beak. At six feet long he was a powerful animal, but nothing in his body language suggested hostility. We stayed together for only a few minutes, but the time stretched like taffy. The ocean rose and fell in a soft rhythm, and below the surface everything was bathed in a blue glow. The dolphins watched me watching them. I swam with the spinners until they headed into deeper waters, where light dropped off to nowhere in long, slanting rays. The last thing I saw before they vanished back into their world was their tails, moving in unison.