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Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves

James Nestor

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  1. 288 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub


Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves

James Nestor

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About This Book

From the bestselling author of Breath, a "fascinating, informative, exhilarating" voyage from the ocean's surface to its darkest trenches ( Wall Street Journal)

New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice•An Amazon Best Science Book of 2014• Scientific American Recommended Read

Fascinatedby the sport of freediving—in which competitors descendgreat depths on a single breath—James Nestor embeds with a gang of oceangoing extreme athletes and renegade researchers. He finds whales that communicate with other whales hundreds of miles away, sharks that swim in unerringly straight lines through pitch-black waters, and other strange phenomena. Most illuminating of all, he learns that these abilities are reflected in our own remarkable, and often hidden, potential—including echolocation, directional sense, and the profound bodily changes humans undergo when underwater. Along the way, Nestor unlocks his own freediving skills as he communes with the pioneers who are expanding our definition of what is possible in the natural world, and in ourselves.

"A journey well worth taking." —David Epstein, New York Times Book Review

"Nestor pulls us below the surface into a world far beyond imagining and opens our eyes to these unseen places." — Dallas Morning News

"This is popular science writing at its best." — Christian Science Monitor

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Mariner Books


IT WAS LIKE A NEAR-DEATH experience. Like being transported to some other place, some other plane,” says Fabrice Schnöller.

SCHNÖLLER WAS CAPTAINING a sixty-foot sloop called the Anna­belle that his friend Luke had just bought from Paloma Picasso, a daughter of Pablo Picasso (an original Picasso still hung in the hull). A few hours into the thirty-six-hour trip, Luke and the six other crew members were below deck incapacitated by seasickness. The onboard chores fell to Schnöller.

SCHNÖLLER GETS UP AND LEADS me to his desk. Behind a lump of papers is an oversize computer monitor with a spectrogram readout—a visual representation of an audio signal—showing some dolphin clicks and other vocalizations he had recorded months earlier. He starts a track, which he says contains rapid click patterns called burst pulses. The speakers blast what sounds like party whistles and machine-gun fire. “All those noises, they are all coming from one dolphin,” he says. “One dolphin.”

THIS “SENSE” IS NOT RESTRICTED to the ocean. Bats have used echolocation for fifty million years to thrive in complete darkness. Humans have echolocated for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.

A FEW WEEKS AFTER SCHNÖLLER introduced me to the otherworldly concept of echolocation, I’m walking down a street in suburban Los Angeles with Brian Bushway, one of the world’s most gifted human echolocators. As we stroll toward a restaurant he’s chosen for lunch, Bushway emits a sharp, short click from his mouth, then points out an empty driveway on our right, a van parked to our left, and rows of overgrown bushes on an upcoming corner. He clicks in the other direction and mentions that the house we just passed is small and covered in plaster, while the one across the street has large bay windows. The lawn in front of the apartment complex just ahead is in sore need of gardening. Bushway gets to the end of the sidewalk, pauses a moment, then leads me past two parked cars and up a curb to the sidewalk on the other side of the street. We take a right, he clicks again, and then he walks me through a crowded parking lot. He tells me the Cuban restaurant we’re going to is up this way. I follow him through the entrance and into a crowded dining room. A server walks us to a corner table and hands us menus. Bushway puts the menu down, without looking, and tells me to order for him. He can’t read the menu; he can’t even see it. He’s blind.

BACK AT THE CUBAN RESTAURANT, I watch Bushway emit a quick, crisp click from his mouth, pause a second, and then reach across our table to grab a water glass. We pay the bill and Bushway clicks again as we get up from our table. He’s still clicking when he leads me out of the crowded restaurant, through a parking lot, and across bustling sidewalks. At the footpath to his apartment building, he stops, tells me to watch my step, and then takes me through his front door.

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