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Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The Great Gig in the Dry


If he's not advising governments and conservation organisations on what to do to feel closer to the animals they're striving to protect, or writing another knock-out essay on human-animal interaction then the legend that is Jim Nollman can probably be found with a guitar on the deck of a boat, trading chops with a killer whale.

For longer than I've been alive Jim Nollman, David Rothenberg and the rest of the good people at interspecies have been peeling back the babel-like layers of language that have built up between humans and animals over countless years. And as they do they're not only unlocking secrets about how these animals communicate and why but also opening a door for us to realise that the distance between us and wildlife is shorter than popularly supposed.

We have fallen into the habit of being the observer. We seem to have set ourselves apart as a higher mammal that is there to keenly describe the relationships that exist between animal species. Indeed, we seem to think it an imperative. But amongst the sheaves of descriptive text we may have neglected to leave space to understand and make use of the relationship between 'us' as one species and 'them' as another. 

The instruments that people like Jim Nollman use to 'talk' to animals like whales and dolphins are, to a certain extent, just a metaphor for how close we could come if we allowed ourselves to step outside of the confines of what fills the bell jar. Yes, it's true that animals such as the great whales are "gifted with extensions of the senses that we have lost or never attained" and are "living by voices we will never hear" but that doesn't mean that either voice is unintelligible to the other. We just have to adjust our sense of what's understandable. 

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