In 1982, Rachel Smolker traveled to Monkey Mia, a remote spot in western Australia where she’d heard wild dolphins regularly interact with people. She had no intention of staying long; she simply wanted to see if the rumors were true. That initial trip changed Smolker’s life; it commenced a fifteen-year scientific obsession that has culminated in this fascinating scientific adventure story and the first-ever intimate account of dolphin life in the wild.

TO TOUCH A WILD DOLPHIN is a seminal work that radically alters our fundamental understanding of these enigmatic creatures. Learning to identify scores of dolphins by their dorsal fin, Smolker and her team of scientists were able to conduct close and consistent studies that revealed the dolphin to be even more intelligent than we’d previously suspected. And while they were every bit as playful as we’ve known them to be, they also proved to have a dark and alarmingly violent side. But more than just a document on dolphins, this book is a touchingly personal look at the life of a scientist, at the rigors and sacrifices but also the wonders and joys of unending days in the field. Written with prose poetic and pristine, this book is nothing short of a landmark.


Rachel Smolker is a co-director of Biofuelwatch, and an organizer with Energy Justice Network. She has researched, written, and organized extensively on the impacts of biofuels and bioenergy on land use, forests, biodiversity, food, people and the climate. She has a Ph.D. in ecology/biology from the University of Michigan and previously worked as a field biologist, gaining firsthand experience with the complex balance between the needs of people and the ecological systems they depend upon. She lives in Vermont.