It Ain't Always Black & White

I’m always looking for books about whales and oceans that go beyond the black and white debates out there. Like my art, shown again, that honors black and white orcas above, I’m more interested in the colors in between.

Here’s a book I didn’t think I’d finish at first. Once I got past some details about the biochemistry of diving, I couldn’t put it down. James Nestor is a reporter who got hooked by freediving and he shares his own learning curves and the people he met in Deep.


Freediving allows humans to go down to 300 feet or more with no air supply at all. No SCUBA. Apparently there is a mechanism, the “life switch” that occurs when your face goes in the water that lets our bodies adapt pretty weirdly. With training, you go down and back up again on one breath and without getting the bends when you return to the surface. If you do it right.


The author did ultimately learn to do it right and met two types of freedivers. There were those that dove in competitions. They risked major harm and death to be the first to go the furthest under various conditions (types of fins, guide ropes, etc.). Good to note that in scoring a dive a success, blood in the mask is not a deduction (and, apparently, not unusual!). So that’s one group.


The other group is exemplified by Fabrice Schnoller who uses freediving to explore whale life. Thosee in this group use the analogy that diving with bubbling SCUBA is like walking in the woods while carrying a running leaf blower. The guideline of this group is to go down and wait, to let the whales come to them. Schnoller’s team shares open source whale data and some beautiful videos, including one mentioned in my last post.

Beyond Black and White

Nestor explores the debate about exploration being the “good” use of freediving vs. the less admirable competitions that some say encourage needless risks and give a bad reputation to the sport. I do love a good debate about the black and white of things but also liked Nestor’s awareness of the interplay of the two. He points out that much of what the explorers can do with their freediving was pioneered by the folk who pushed boundaries to win those competitions. In any case, the black and white have led to a lively book by Nestor and some very colorful videos*5 from Schnoller’s team, both a great boon for those of us who don’t dive at all.