Cover image for To touch a wild dolphin : a journey of discovery with the sea's most intelligent creatures
To touch a wild dolphin : a journey of discovery with the sea's most intelligent creatures
Smolker, Rachel.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2001.
Physical Description:
274 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QH31.S6124 A3 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
QH31.S6124 A3 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



To Touch a Wild Dolphinis the first intimate account of dolphin life in the wild. In 1982 Rachel Smolker traveled to Monkey Mia, a remote beach on the west coast of Australia where wild dolphins regularly interact with humans. Over the next fifteen years, Smolker and a team of fellow scientists were able to explore the lives of dolphins as they had never been explored before: up close, in their natural environment, with a definite recognition of individual dolphin identities. Smolker came to know the relationships, histories, and "personalities" of the dolphins. InTo Touch a Wild Dolphinshe offers delightful portraits of dolphins she became close to, ranging from the playful and incredibly silly to the slightly crazy, moody, and unpredictable. This develops into an examination of dolphin society and the diversity of characters that inhabit it. And ultimately from the intriguing, sometimes violent differences between the sexes to the nature of mother-infant relationships, to the wide repertoire of sounds used for social communication Smolker is able to reveal the inner workings of dolphin life with unprecedented clarity. Smolker was initially attracted to dolphins for the reasons that attract so many people to them: an elusive sense of their intelligence and their social and emotional complexity, a sense that despite the fact that we live in such entirely different worlds, dolphins are somehow like us. Now, after years of fascinating, inspiring, sometimes troubling, and occasionally heartbreaking experiences with the dolphins of Monkey Mia, Smolker is able to unravel many of the mysteries surrounding these beloved animals. To Touch a Wild Dolphinis a personal book in many ways, at the level of the dolphins and also at the level of the scientist. It is an important book, one that greatly enhances our understanding of dolphins and of ourselves, and as such it will take its place alongside such classics as Farley Mowat'sNever Cry Wolfand Jane Goodall'sIn the Shadow of Man.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Monkey Mia, a small fishing camp on Australia's Shark Bay, has been home to friendly wild dolphins for 50 years. These dolphins voluntarily enter shallow water to interact with humans, and then rejoin their lessfriendly compatriots in the wild. Smolker, a student at UCSC, heard about the Monkey Mia dolphins and immediately decided to study them. What followed was 15 years of research, delightfully described here. Smolker has the ability to take the reader with her as she wades into the water to visit the dolphins, learns how to tell them apart, and studies their interactions with humans and with each other. Her descriptions of the highs (a mother dolphin bringing her hoursold baby to see the humans) and lows (lack of steady research funding) of field work, mixed with the excitement of meeting dolphins close up, makes for entrancing reading. Recommended for all libraries. --Nancy Bent

Publisher's Weekly Review

In the tradition of When Elephants Weep by Susan McCarthy and Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, biologist Smolker provides an intimate, engaging glimpse into the world of wild dolphins. In 1982, Smolker sold all her possessions and traveled to Monkey Mia, a remote beach in western Australia where people frequently encounter wild dolphins. For 15 years, her team collected data on dolphin existence: their sophisticated social structures; their vocal and mimetic skills enabling communication; and their clever predatory techniques, including the use of tools and sound to capture fish. Smolker and her colleagues identified more than 200 individual dolphins, among whom she discerned a host of distinct personalities. Among them was Holeyfin, the "grand old matriarch" of Monkey Mia, and her daughters Nicky, who relishes rough-and-tumble play, and "gorgeous, energetic" Holly, with whom the author often frolicked. Such character sketches and a wealth of well-told anecdotes enliven the book's more technical material, most of which reinforces common ideas about dolphin intelligence and friendliness, with additional findings on male dolphins' violence toward female dolphins during mating. Most disturbing are the deaths of some dolphins, for which Smolker blames overflow from a beachside tourist facility's septic tank. Her worry for the safety of her cetacean acquaintances lends gravity to this animated, empathetic account of life among Flipper's wild kin. (Mar. 20) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Dolphins intrigue people, perhaps because we relate to their intelligence and playful spirits. At Shark Bay in western Australia, people intrigue the wild dolphins. For decades, certain dolphins and their offspring have interacted with humans, approaching them voluntarily. Smolker spent over 15 years studying these dolphins and their behavior. She has attempted to understand their complex language of whistles and clicks and was among the first to observe tool use in dolphins. Sadly, many of the animals she observed daily, identified by sight, interacted with often, and who thus revealed some of their dolphin secrets are now dead. The once-quiet bay is a tourist resort with sometimes hundreds of people in the water at once and rangers required to help keep order, while human waste may be responsible for the deaths of several of the main study dolphins. Yet, humans and dolphins still interact here, with many safe and beneficial outcomes. Enjoyable, informative, nontechnical, and insightful, this work is important and suitable for all collections. Nancy Moeckel, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-Smolker describes her love affair with the dolphins of Monkey Mia, Australia, and the results of 15 years of scientific research there. In 1982, she and another student sold almost all of their belongings to finance a trip to the remote tip of western Australia where they camped out in primitive conditions to study dolphins. The author describes the personalities of many of the creatures she encountered, from Hollyfin, the most photographed, touched, and well-known (by humans) wild dolphin on the face of the Earth, to Nicky, the moody adolescent that usually accepted fish from tourists, but that occasionally snapped and drew blood. Smolker, who returned again and again to Monkey Mia, describes following the dolphins out in the bay, photographing them, and, later, recording their whistles and other sounds. The first to study dolphins in the wild, she debunks many of the myths surrounding them, documenting their hunting and fishing techniques, sexual habits, mother-daughter relationships, social communication, and the relationships among the sometimes violent males that travel in packs. She discusses the ethical implications of their work at Monkey Mia, which has turned a remote and barren outpost into a tourist attraction. The woman's enthusiasm for her work and her concern for the dolphins shines through this narrative. More than 25 color photographs accompany the text.-Jane S. Drabkin, Chinn Park Regional Library, Prince William, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.