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Soundings: Journeys in the Company of Whales

UK Publisher: Virago
US Publisher: Scribners

From the lagoons of Mexico to Arctic glaciers, grey whale mothers are swimming with their calves, past predatory orcas, through a warming sea. For ten thousand miles, they endure one of the longest mammalian migrations on the planet. Following them, by bus, train and ferry, are Doreen Cunningham and her young son Max, in pursuit of a wild hope: that their family of two can make it by themselves.

Doreen first visited Utqiagvik, the northernmost town in Alaska, as a young journalist reporting on climate change among indigenous whaling communities. There, she joined the spring whale hunt under the neverending Arctic light, watching for bowhead whales and polar bears, drawn deeply into an Iñupiaq family, their culture and the disappearing ice.

Years later, plunged into sudden poverty and isolation, living in a Women’s Refuge with her baby son, Doreen recalls the landscape that once helped shape her own. She embarks on an extraordinary adventure: taking Max to follow the grey whale migration all the way north to the Iñupiaq family that took her in, where grey and bowhead whales meet at the melting apex of our planet.

Soundings is the story of a woman reclaiming her life, mile by mile; a child growing to love an ocean that is profoundly endangered; and a mother learning from another species how to parent in a time of unprecedented change. Intrepid, brave and breathtaking, her journey will take you to the ends of the earth, alongside the whales that call it home.


This stunning book blends nature writing of the most urgent kind with precise and poetic observation of human tribulation and the interconnectedness of all things. Fresh, brave and unique ― Damian le Bas, author of The Stopping Places

Soundings stuns with its bravery and lyricism. This is a book to be devoured. ― Ramita Navai, author of City of Lies

Cunningham’s scientific knowledge and gorgeous prose take us on an extraordinary journey as she forges a remarkable connection with these astonishing creatures and issues an impassioned plea for our shared futures. Soundings is a completely unique, unforgettable book. ― Erica Wagner

“In tender, often heart-wrenching prose, [Cunningham] recounts her passionate connection with whales alongside the aching story of past
romance with a subsistence Utqiagvik whale hunter, a subsequent disastrous love affair in Britain, and then an agonizing child-custody battle… With a light touch and artful prose, Cunningham’s primary message of compassion comes through, a perspective readers are sure to respond to.” Booklist

‘Soundings is a wonderful debut: a memoir that’s both frank and fearless, and a plea for the whales to be allowed to live, and die, in peace.’ Telegraph

Doreen Cunningham is an Irish-British writer born in Wales. After studying engineering Doreen worked briefly in climate related research at...