In 2013, a sperm whale washed up dead on Spain’s southern coast. In its ruptured digestive tract, scientists found an entire flattened greenhouse that once grew wintertime tomatoes, complete with plastic tarps, hoses, two flower pots, and a spray canister. The whale also contained an ice cream tub, mattress parts, a carafe, and a coat hanger. And that was just the obvious human refuse. Our toxic chemicals build up in whale blubber over years such that the concentration of pollutants in some whale bodies now far exceeds that of the water surrounding them. In whales’ vastness, the reach of humanity’s destruction is magnified — but so too is the potential of our compassion. In her genius debut book, Fathoms: The World in the Whale, writer Rebecca Giggs asks: Who are we to whales? What does it mean to pollute not just places, but animals? What can understanding our ecological crises through the perspectives of other creatures teach us about ourselves? In this episode, we speak with Giggs about the astonishing ways in which whales and humans live in each other’s wakes and the enormous power of the world’s largest mammals to expand our own moral capacity.
What is it like to be another creature? What is it like to see, smell, hear, taste and feel the world as a different animal? Our guest today, the spectacularly imaginative writer and explorer Dr. Charles Foster wanted to find out. So, he got down on all fours and tried his best to do just that, living for weeks at a time as a badger, an otter, an urban fox, a deer and a swift. In this episode, Dr. Foster speaks about his adventures in non-humanness, how inhabiting the sensory world of other animals expanded his empathy, the shamanic quality of good nature writing, and his ambition to use language to subvert language itself. His explorations of mind and body are chronicled in his daring, hilarious and award-winning book, “Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide.”