How to Speak Whale

Tom Mustill

250 pages September 2022 Manuscript in English Science

A thrilling investigation into whale science and animal communication, and a poignant look at how technology may change 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. A video clip of the event went viral, and Tom found himself inundated with theories about what happened. He became obsessed with trying to find out what the whale had been thinking. He 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.

Developments in natural science and AI mean that we are closer than ever to genuinely talking to animals. Scientists and start-ups across Silicon Valley and beyond are working to turn the fantasy of Dr Doolittle into a reality, using powerful new technologies to try to decode the languages of animals. Whales, with their giant mammalian brains and sophisticated communications, offer one of the most realistic opportunities for us to do so. But what would the consequences of such human-animal interaction be? We’d open a Pandora’s Box that could never be closed.

How to Speak Whale is a lively, wide-ranging investigation into animal communication that explores how close we truly are to communicating with another species, and – if we were to make meaningful contact – how it would impact the world we live in.


“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

“A fascinating world brought to life by Mustill… readers will savor this expert exploration of animal communication.” — Kirkus Reviews

“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, The New Yorker

“Thoughtful and curious, this study sings.” — Publishers Weekly

“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 

“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

“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 C. Slaght, author of Owls of the Eastern Ice.

“This is a scary 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 watery world populated by these beautiful aliens are enthralling, wild 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.

“Highly readable and eye-opening.” — Geographical

Watch the trailer