Biologist-Author Tom Mustill describes whale landing on him while kayaking, how it transformed him personally and professionally


Tom Mustill, who’s a biologist, filmmaker, and author, discussed how he’s forever primarily identified by a 2015 incident: while kayaking with a friend, a humpback whale breached, and landing on the pair.

In this “Talking Animals” interview,  Mustill described the ways this incident has affected him personally and professionally.

It’s certainly has altered and consumed his thinking, spurring him to make a documentary a few years ago, “The Whale Detective,” investigating several facets of encounter–Mustill and I discussed that film in a Jan. 2020 “Talking Animals” interview.

This clearly transformative experience additionally inspired him to write the recently-published book exploring the history and newest developments in whale science and animal communication, “How To Speak Whale: A Voyage into the Future of Animal Communication.”

One bridge beween the two projects, Mustill noted, is Artificial Intelligence (AI), which was utilized deep in the latter stages of working on the film (so it wasn’t depicted onscreen), and occupies an important part of the book, notably in the work of Aza Raskin and Britt Selvetelle, which he addressed in this conversation, highlighting their significant inroads in the field of animal communication.

We wandered onto the topic of anthropomorphism, the subject of considerable debate over the years on this show, and many other arenas, with a palpable shift amidst many scientists away from the dismissive stance. Mustill shares his own hypothesis on this topic, which seems very reasonable; we agree that a simple step toward resolution might be changing the term itself.

He fields questions from callers and emailers, and concludes by answering my final query in a conversation about whales and animal communication: If you could talk to “your” whale, what would you ask? His response is eloquent and poetic.

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