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How To Speak Whale book cover

How to Speak Whale

A thrilling investigation into the pioneering world of animal communication, where big data and artificial intelligence are changing our relationship with animals forever.

In 2015, wildlife filmmaker Tom Mustill was whale watching when a humpback breached onto his kayak and nearly killed him. After a video clip of the event went viral, Tom found himself inundated with theories about what happened.


He became obsessed with trying to find out what the whale had been thinking and sometimes wished he could just ask it.  In the process of making a film about his experience, he discovered that might not be such a crazy idea.

This is a story about the pioneers in a new age of discovery, whose cutting-edge developments in natural science and technology are taking us to the brink of decoding animal communication – and whales, with their giant mammalian brains and sophisticated languages, offer one of the most realistic opportunities for us to do so.

Using ‘underwater ears’, robotic fish, big data and machine intelligence, leading scientists and tech-entrepreneurs across the world are working to turn the fantasy of Dr Doolittle into a reality, upending much of what we know about these mysterious creatures.

But what would it mean if we were to make contact?


And with climate change threatening ever more species with extinction, would doing so alter our approach to the natural world?

How to Speak Whale is published by:

UK: William Collins US: Grand Central, Finland: Aula & Co, France: Albin Michel, Germany: Rowohlt, Japan: Kashiwa Shobo, Sweden: ModernistaKorea: Eidos Publishing, Italy: Il Saggiatore, Spain: Taurus/PRH

Enormously original and hugely entertaining, How to Speak Whale is an unforgettable look at how close we truly are to communicating with another species – and how doing so might change our world beyond recognition.

Praise for How to Speak Whale

‘We rarely pause to consider what animals think or feel, or question whether their inner lives resemble our own. Tom Mustill’s fascinating and deeply humane book shows us why we must do so – and what we, and the planet, could stand to gain by it’

Greta Thunberg, environmental activist

‘A mind-blowing voyage so beautifully told and rigorously researched, you will never feel closer to the magnificence of whales – and the awe-inspiring possibilities of human-animal interaction. Mustill’s writing is so vivid, I could almost smell the whales and imagined seawater surf might come off the page’

Lucy Jones, author of Losing Eden

‘A rich, enthralling, brilliant book that opens our eyes and ears to worlds we can scarcely imagine’

George Monbiot, Sunday Times bestselling author of Regenesis

‘A scary, important and brilliant book. It proposes that whales may be the first species other than ourselves whose complex communications we will soon understand. Tom Mustill’s adventures into the inner space occupied by these watery aliens are by turns enthralling and revealing. And he’s not afraid to ask, boldly, the crucial question: if we do get to translate ‘whale’, will we like what they’ve got to say?’

Philip Hoare, author of Leviathan, and Albert & the Whale

‘Tantalizing … Think how transformative it would be if we could chat with whales about their love lives or their sorrows or their thoughts on the philosophy of language’

Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker

‘Dr. Doolittle wanted to speak to the animals, and many attempts to communicate with non-humans have involved trying to teach them to speak English. The frontier is in meeting other animals where they are, how they live, and for us to understand them by learning their modes of communication. In How to Speak Whale, Tom Mustill takes us farther, much farther, than Dr. Doolittle ever imagined. And he does it with humility and sensitivity that befits the subject’

Carl Safina, New York Times bestselling author of Song for the Blue Ocean and Beyond Words

‘Mustill guides the reader right to the edge of what we know (and don’t know) about how whales and other non-human animals talk to one another. A lively and informative read that heralds what could be the golden age of animal communication’

Jonathan Slaght, author of Owls of the Eastern Ice

‘Mustill has opened a door that takes us into an exciting journey of understanding the other animals on this planet, demystifying their secrets and putting their messages within our grasp. You will actually start to listen to animals after reading this extraordinary book’

Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and Sunday Times bestselling co-author of The Future We Choose

‘We are on the verge of a revolution in communicating with these smart, social, otherworldly leviathans. Tom Mustill’s riveting reports from the cutting edge of science set my heart pounding! How to Speak Whale is one of the most exciting and hopeful books I have read in ages’

Sy Montgomery, author of the New York Times bestseller The Soul of an Octopus

‘Through his highly personal journey and discussions with experts, Tom Mustill conveys the richness of whale song and communication. Most of all we gain immense respect for these giants of the ocean’

Frans de Waal, author of Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist

‘Tom Mustill’s book will really make you think about the relationship between animals and people’

Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation and Thinking in Pictures

‘For decades, we’ve adored the mystical sounds and melodies of whales. At last, here comes a book that whispers a first promise of understanding what they might be singing. And if it turns out that whales are anywhere near as eloquent and funny as Tom Mustill, then we’ve some serious cetacean publishing to look forward to in the not-so distant future’

Sam Lee, singer and author of The Nightingale

‘How to Speak Whale begins with a massive splash that pulls you right in. Then, the waves of wonder keep rolling over you page after brilliant page, until you reach the end and realize your view of the world, and the animals we share it with, has changed forever’

 Juli Berwald, author of Spineless and Life on the Rocks 

‘Tom Mustill’s How to Speak Whale... is anything but a fuzzy thinking pop-sci book. It’s more like a first-class nature film put on paper. It does not anthropomorphize animal behavior and it steers very clear of injecting human bias into discussions of animals’ intentions. Indeed, it is a reasoned, entertaining, and fact-filled inquiry into the particulars of animal communication and the possibilities of humans ever talking to any animals.

Rebecca Coffey,

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