Into the Deep – by Ken Grimwood

If you read my post about Replay, Ken Grimwood’s time travel novel, you would have seen my reference to Starsea, a movie that takes a central role in the plot of Replay.

Into the Deep is the story of Starsea. Dolphins, and cetaceans in general, are presented as sentient beings with a level of intelligence equaling that of humans. In the book, we get to know four human protagonists, a marine biologist, an investigative journalist, a petroleum engineer and a tuna boat captain. The four become, through the course of the story, interconnected and end up collaborating at the end, as unlikely as it would seem at the beginning. We also get to know many dolphins, with names like Ch*Tril, Qr/Tal, Tk/Lin, etc. The author does a wonderful job telling the story from the point of view of the dolphins, and we start thinking like they do, we view humans like a dolphin would.

We humans can visually look around a room and see a bottle of wine on the coffee table, a painting on the wall, a candle burning in the mantle of the fire place, and the television set on, sending pictures our way, all with a scan of our eyes, taking in object shapes, textures of those objects, colors and opacity of the objects.

Dolphins can see like we do. However, they can also echo locate, sending ultrasound signals out into dark or murky water and hear the echoes coming back like a submarine’s sonar. Using no vision at all, a dolphin can create a picture in its brain with that same level of detail. It can ‘see’ a coin on the bottom of the sea, a lobster crawling, a rock in its way, and it could determine the texture and shape of those objects, as clear as we can do it with vision. But it goes a little further. Since it’s sonar, the dolphin can look right through soft tissue and ‘see’ the skeletal structure underneath, of humans, sharks or other dolphins. If a dolphin were to have a racing heart due to an adrenaline rush from being frightened, another dolphin would clearly see that racing heart. A dolphin can draw conclusion about another dolphin from seeing inside like we humans can when we see somebody blushing, perhaps.

The dolphins call the humans land-walkers. They see them only from a distance, except when they come out to the sea in strange, fragile hulls with large white dorsal fins on top of them. The dolphins observe the humans and think of them as communication handicapped, since they apparently can only communicate by flapping their front-mounted blowholes making crude noises in a narrow frequency band.

Here is an excerpt from the point of view of one dolphin that has swum up to a beach where he is surrounded by a bunch of people delighted about his appearance:

Then he turned his attention to the young ones. They swarmed around him, reaching out to touch him with the squirmy little growths that sprouted from the ends of their upper appendages. He allowed the contact, even enjoyed it when they stroked him gently; but he remained alert, because each of those wriggling growths was tipped with something hard and sharp, like miniature crawler-claws. He’d received a few painful scrapes on his delicate skin during the first few of these encounters, but the young ones seemed more careful now, and usually onely touched him with the soft pads beneath their claws.

One young female, smaller than the others, was standing hesitantly aside from the boisterous group that had rushed to meet and touch him. Tk/Lin scanned her internally and saw that her heart was racing, the muscles around her stomach were tight. An adult male was urging her forward in the water, but she held back, clearly afraid.

Tk/Lin peeled away from the crowed of fearless young ones around him and made his way slowly, ever so slowly, toward the trembling little female. he stopped two beak-to-flukes from her and raised his head above the surface, swaying it to and fro in a gentle rhythm timed to mimic the normal land-walker heartbeat. The young one watched, entranced, but  still she clung to the lower limbs of the long male behind her.

Two of the bigger young ones came splashing toward Tk/Lin, eager for more active play, but he warned  them away with a slight thwap! of his flukes against the water. They retreated, and Tk/Lin turned his attention once more the the frightened little female. Keeping his distance from her, he rolled methodically from one side to the other, showing her his dorsal, his pectoral fins, his soft white belly. She watched in silence, her eyes round.

One of the many-colored spherical things filled with air that the young ones often tossed to Tk/Lin was floating nearby. he nudged it with his beak, and it rolled across the placid surface to the young female. She reflexively let go of the adult’s limbs and caught it between her own upper appendages. She stared at the toy for a moment, then at Tk/Lin, and gave the weightless sphere a push back in his direction. He chittered his approval and bounced it back toward her, a little harder this time.

The young one’s face contorted, her mouth curling upward at the sides in the land-walker gesture that Tk/Lin had learned to recognize as indicative of amusement or contentment. She slapped the toy back again, through the air above the surface; her aim was off, but Tk/Lin easity darted to meet it and toss it back to her. The young one squealed and tossed the brightly colored sphere again and again, ignoring the adult behind her. Her muscles were relaxed now, Tk/Lin scanned, her heartbeat steady and normal.

As I stated in my review of Replay, I am fascinated by the concept of cetacean intelligence and I will write some blog entries about that subject alone shortly.

Into the Deep, of course, is a fictional story, with a plot line that stretches a bit beyond where I would have taken it, but it’s wrapped into basic concepts that are fascinating and entertaining.

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