The 6 Best Books About Whales that Explore Their Histories, Dialects, and More

Written by Angie Menjivar
Updated: November 12, 2022

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Key Points:

  • The best overall book about whales is the Encyclopedia of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises.
  • Check out titles that teach you about all the different cetacean species, books that explore animal communication, and works that explore whales’ histories.
  • Find the writing style you enjoy at the appropriate reading level. Delve into a fiction story or stick with facts and up-to-date research!

Like humans, whales live in close social circles, relate in complex ways with one another, and have their own dialects. They’re fascinating creatures that we often don’t think of, particularly if you don’t often visit the ocean. Once you face the ocean, however, the enormity of it all comes to life, and it’s easy to get endlessly curious about it. There’s so much we still don’t know about whales and there are researchers out there doing incredible work, attempting to understand and decipher the languages of whales.

In the list below, you uncover a couple of different books about whales. The first is an encyclopedia appropriate for different age groups that covers whales, dolphins, and porpoises. It’s an extensive work that can serve as a wonderful resource for research. We incorporate an intriguing science writer with first-hand whaling experience who writes about whales’ histories. We also highlight a title that is all about animal communication and the newest tech working toward understanding how whales communicate (and how humans may be able to communicate with them). For a lighter approach, you can check out a whale coloring book and a fiction novel that highlights a humpback whale tracker named Oliver.

  1. Encyclopedia of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises
  2. Encyclopedia of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises
    • Written by award-winning writer and whale researcher
    • Encyclopedia with detailed profiles of different ocean animals
    • Customers rate this book 4.7 out of five stars
    Check Amazon
  3. Whale Coloring Book for Adults (Animal Coloring Books)
  4. Whale Coloring Book for Adults (Animal Coloring Books)
    • Whale coloring book for adults with over 30 full-page illustrations
    • Mix of realistic and fantastical illustrations
    • Customers rate this book 4.6 out of five stars
    Check Amazon
  5. Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth's Most Awesome Creatures
  6. Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth's Most Awesome Creatures
    • Explores the history and future of whales
    • Tackles questions like why it took so long for whales to evolve to such large sizes
    • Customers rate this book 4.5 out of five stars
    Check Amazon
  7. Handbook of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises of the World
  8. Handbook of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises of the World
    • Covers all 90 species (and subspecies) of cetaceans
    • Just under 1,000 accurate color illustrations
    • Customers rate this book 4.8 out of five stars
    Check Amazon
  9. How to Speak Whale: A Voyage into the Future of Animal Communication
  10. How to Speak Whale: A Voyage into the Future of Animal Communication
    • Explores what would happen if humans and animals could communicate with one another
    • Provides a fascinating insight into animal communication and mental life
    • Customers rate this book 4.4 out of five stars
    Check Amazon
  11. Songs of the Humpback Whale: A Novel in Five Voices (Wsp Readers Club)
  12. Songs of the Humpback Whale: A Novel in Five Voices (Wsp Readers Club)
    • Remarkable novel that portrays a marriage brimming with emotion
    • Well-developed characters
    • Customers rate this book 3.9 out of five stars
    Check Amazon

Encyclopedia of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises

The best overall book about whales is the Encyclopedia of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises. This book has received several awards. The author is a whale researcher named Eric Hoyt who invites readers into the world’s oceans to explore 90 species of cetaceans. He has decades of first-hand experience, which is what really sets this book apart. He’s able to relay insights only he could have acquired, and you feel a sense of comprehensive familiarity while reading his work. Marine animals like whales are compelling and this book helps you examine their life histories.

The book takes you on to explore different discoveries about cetacean biology. You can explore the different physical characteristics of whales like the baleen and toothed whales. You can also explore how they feed and how they are so adept at hunting. The book goes on to explain their meeting and courtship processes as well as the family relationships they create. Some of the lifelong bonds that these sea creatures create are astounding. The book explores the humpback whale, which is recognized as the ultimate composer in the whale world. These whales sing complex songs lasting as much as 30 minutes that make their way across oceans!

Customers rate this book 4.7 out of five stars. It contains a lot of information, and the accompanying photos are absolutely breathtaking. One customer purchased it solely for research and she loves how accurate it is. Another customer appreciates that although comprehensive, the author writes in a way that is accessible, even for younger readers. She really enjoyed the different stories from researchers because they added a personal touch to this science. She feels this book serves as a great inspiration to take personal responsibility and take action to protect these amazing creatures.

Best Overall
Encyclopedia of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises
  • Written by award-winning writer and whale researcher
  • Encyclopedia with detailed profiles of different ocean animals
  • Customers rate this book 4.7 out of five stars
Check Amazon

Whale Coloring Book for Adults

This book is for you to enjoy with your favorite set of colored markers, pens, or pencils. It’s a whale coloring book for adults. Inside its pages, you find 31 full-page illustrations. Each of these designs invites you into a meditative space where you can relieve stress, explore your creativity, and ultimately relax your mind, body, and soul. There are a variety of different styles in this book as well. You can go for some simpler designs or really take your time with some of the more complex, intricate illustrations. It’s perfect for all levels of colorists, whether you just got started or you already have a stack of coloring books you finished at home.

Some of these illustrations are quite realistic while others are more fantastical. You have a wide range to choose from in this paperback coloring book. The cover is modern and durable, so your works remain protected, and they’re printed on single sides of pure white paper. Each page is a high-quality paper stock to minimize any bleedthrough (should you prefer to use more pigmented mediums like markers). Customers rate this book 4.6 out of five stars. They appreciate all the awesome designs and that the book incorporates lots of different styles. No single illustration is the same, which keeps you engaged. You may even decide to share one of these pages with a loved one to explore the art of coloring together.

Best Meditative
Whale Coloring Book for Adults (Animal Coloring Books)
  • Whale coloring book for adults with over 30 full-page illustrations
  • Mix of realistic and fantastical illustrations
  • Customers rate this book 4.6 out of five stars
Check Amazon

Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures

This next work explores the history and future of whales. The New York Times calls it thrilling. The author, Nick Pyenson, invites you to explore the lives of whales. They are the largest and most intelligent species that have ever inhabited the earth. Their evolution is mesmerizing. They started as land-roaming creatures that were about the size of dogs and now live completely submerged in the ocean. They breathe just like humans but move like fish. They’re fascinating creatures, growing to 300,000 pounds and living hundreds of years.

There’s something about whales that is both fascinating and terrifying. Despite their long history, there is still so much that humans don’t yet know about these marine mammals. This book explores questions like why it took so long for whales to evolve to such large sizes. From what we understand, it took over 50 million years for them to become the creature we know and recognize today. The book also covers how their ancestors went from land to sea and what their lives have to tell us about the entirety of evolution.

Customers rate this book 4.5 out of five stars. They describe it as both worrisome and fascinating. The author does a fantastic job of creating a very clear picture based on his own experience with whaling vessels. One customer says she found it eye-opening, particularly because Pyenson touches on the impacts humans have had on nearly decimating these wildly intelligent creatures throughout history. Another customer says that she wanted more statistics, photographs, and analyses that she didn’t feel were a part of this book. However, she found it an interesting read and it left her wanting to learn more.

Best Science Writing
Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth's Most Awesome Creatures
  • Explores the history and future of whales
  • Tackles questions like why it took so long for whales to evolve to such large sizes
  • Customers rate this book 4.5 out of five stars
Check Amazon

Handbook of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises of the World

This handbook serves as an authoritative piece of work you can reference for every cetacean species found throughout the world. It’s incredibly comprehensive and completely up to date, with all research known regarding these marine mammals. Within the book, you find just under 1,000 accurate color illustrations. Alongside each illustration, you can follow along with detailed annotations that identify all significant field marks. This book covers all 90 species (and subspecies) of cetaceans.

To produce this text, Mark Carwardine, a conservationist, collaborated with several leading cetacean biologists. The book is overflowing with identification tips that help you learn about mammals from the blue whale to the Indo pacific finless porpoise. Along with all of the detailed annotations and color illustrations, you can also explore distribution maps and photographs. The way Carwardine organized this book makes it easy to navigate. You get easy access to all of the critical information you need, making this an indispensable resource for cetacean seekers and whale watchers.

Customers rate this book 4.8 out of five stars. One customer shares that this edition is a massive improvement to the original 1995 edition. His interest in cetaceans started in the mid-90s when only 78 species had been discovered. He finds this an informative work with lavish illustrations. Another customer purchased this book for a different reason. He was looking for a really nice coffee table book for his home by the ocean. This one serves that purpose beautifully for him.

Best Reference Guide
Handbook of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises of the World
  • Covers all 90 species (and subspecies) of cetaceans
  • Just under 1,000 accurate color illustrations
  • Customers rate this book 4.8 out of five stars
Check Amazon

How to Speak Whale: A Voyage into the Future of Animal Communication

This book explores what would happen if humans and animals could communicate with one another. The author is Tom Mustill who is a nature documentarian. You might recognize his name because he went viral after a humpback whale weighing 30 tons breached onto his kayak. This happened on September 12, 2015. Mustill was in a two-person kayak at the time. He was with a friend. The scene was gorgeous, and it was cold. Suddenly, the humpback whale landed right on top of them. You can imagine that Mustill thought he was about to die. However, both he and his friend survived that encounter without a single scratch on them.

This incident brought forth a question in his mind: what can this incredible encounter have to teach us? He’s a wildlife filmmaker and a naturalist so he has plenty of experience already. Using this as a foundation, he started researching more about human-whale interactions throughout the world. He ended up meeting two tech entrepreneurs. They developed artificial intelligence with the original intent to translate human languages. Mustill wanted to use this technology to identify patterns in animal conversations. He wanted to decode them.

Customers rate this book 4.4 out of five stars. They describe it as a brilliant work that opens their minds to just how intelligent whales are. One customer says he cannot stop thinking about it. He hasn’t been able to stop talking about it either. After reading the entire book, he feels that a fundamental change has taken place in regard to his perspective on animal intelligence. Mustill does a fantastic job of elucidating on the science but also blends in unforgettable stories that really bring those insights to life. He highly recommends it.

Best on Animal Communication
How to Speak Whale: A Voyage into the Future of Animal Communication
  • Explores what would happen if humans and animals could communicate with one another
  • Provides a fascinating insight into animal communication and mental life
  • Customers rate this book 4.4 out of five stars
Check Amazon

Songs of the Humpback Whale: A Novel in Five Voices

This next book is available in hardcover, audio, and Kindle formats. It’s a remarkable novel that portrays a marriage brimming with emotion. In the story, the marriage changes after a single powerful moment. The book follows Jane Jones who is married to Oliver Jones. Oliver is a renowned San Diego oceanographer. Oliver and Jane have an awful fight during which Jane becomes someone she doesn’t recognize. Filled with rage and unsettling fear, she leaves with their teenage daughter. Oliver is an expert at tracking humpback whales. He manages to do this across many oceans and turns his tracking skill set to search for his wife and daughter. Throughout this journey, he discovers a new way to see the world – and that, through Jane’s eyes.

Customers rate this book 3.9 out of five stars. They see it as a wonderful story. One customer who is a longtime fan of the author isn’t quite sure how she missed it when it was first released. The story was intriguing enough to get her through some Egyptology and sort of tedious historical details. She ended up discovering some information about pyramids that she didn’t know about and was surprised to find it interesting. She appreciates the depth of Jane’s character, however, she feels her strength didn’t come through as prominently as she would have preferred. Another customer says this novel is enjoyable but found it a little bit confusing. This is because the book takes you to different places in time with each new chapter. She prefers stories told in chronological order.

Best Novel
Songs of the Humpback Whale: A Novel in Five Voices (Wsp Readers Club)
  • Remarkable novel that portrays a marriage brimming with emotion
  • Well-developed characters
  • Customers rate this book 3.9 out of five stars
Check Amazon

Criteria: What to Look for in Books About Whales

There are several different types of books about whales for you to explore. Some of them are best for research purposes while others explore the possibility of communication with whales. Some are meditative and for coloring while others incorporate whales as part of a fictional narrative that centers around specific characters.

Type of Book

If you’re a whale fanatic, then pretty much any book on whales is likely to be of interest to you. However, if you have a specific purpose in mind when looking for books about whales, you need to narrow your focus. There are plenty of books that are suitable for research and that can serve as reference guides. There are also books that incorporate whales as part of a fiction story. Some books explore animal communication and lean into the type of technology we’re using to attempt to understand the songs of whales. Some are best for kids to start getting to know more about this incredible sea creature.

Reading Level

Some books are perfect for most ages. A preteen may enjoy the same text as an adult. This usually happens because the author writes in a very accessible way and the story appeals to people of different ages. However, many books are intended for a specific age group. Be sure that when you are shopping for books about whales, you pick up a title that is appropriate for the person you intend to give it to (or for yourself).

Author’s Style

Certainly, you have read some authors’ works that have been like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard. It’s just not intriguing for you and each page feels insufferable. That’s not the author for you. That same author may completely delight someone else. We all have different preferences when it comes to writing styles. You don’t have to suffer through a boring text if you’re reading for pleasure. Find an author’s style whose works you enjoy and lean into those types of books. Some books bounce around with timelines, which can create confusion for some readers. If you prefer a book written in chronological order, even if fiction, then be sure to do a little research on the author to confirm that they write in a way that makes the text digestible (and enjoyable!) for you.

Up Next, Check Out More Books That Explore Life in the Water:

About the Author

Angie is a writer with over 10 years of experience developing content for product and brand reviews, focusing much of her time on animals of all types. A cat owner herself, she enjoys writing articles on beloved pets that both inform and entertain her audience.

The 6 Best Books About Whales that Explore Their Histories, Dialects, and More FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are whales friendly?

Generally, whales are non-violent. They don’t act aggressively toward humans. However, like with any animal, if a whale feels threatened or is scared, it may resort to defensive actions against whatever it perceives as a potential threat. Typically, gray whales are the most inquisitive, which comes off as friendliness to humans.

Can a whale hurt a human?

Being that whales are incredibly large and heavy, they can certainly hurt humans. However, whales are not aggressive towards humans. It is highly unlikely that a whale would intentionally hurt a human.

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