The song of the sea

“As silent as a fish”
– A saying from ancient Greece

In 1953, Jacques Cousteau co-authored a book titled The Silent World: A Story of Undersea Discovery and Adventure. It was long assumed that the ocean was a quiet world, empty of sound.  But we have since discovered that this is far from the truth.  The seas that surround us are filled with a vast array of sounds.

“The underwater soundscape can be as noisy as any rainforest”
Kate Stafford

Underwater sound is generated by a variety of natural sources, such as breaking waves, rain, the sound of bubbles popping and of volcanoes erupting at the bottom of the ocean.  There is the creaking and cracking of ice, screeching and popping and groaning.  The noise from ships at the surface and the sound of the earth quaking.  And of course, the sounds of marine life.

Because sound travels five times faster through water than through air it is a useful tool for aquatic animals.  Especially given that sight and smell are less effective underwater.  All it takes is a bit of murky water and your vision is severely restricted but sound can travel for thousands of miles in the ocean.

Animals use sound to study habitat (echolocation) and to detect predators and prey.  Sound is used for communicating about reproduction and territory and some animals even use sound to stun their prey, such as the pistol shrimps.

Whales and dophins

Probably the most well known sound from the sea is probably that of the whale song.  The haunting, eerie moans gave the whale a voice and in doing so, probably aided conservation efforts.  Whale song is now part of human culture and helps us feel connected to these mysterious creatures.

The humpback whale has the loudest voice in the animal kingdom, carrying for miles.  And it is thought that they may have one of the most complex songs in the animal kingdom.  Their songs are sung by the males and the songs are always changing although whales from one area sing the same song, whales from different areas sing different songs.  Almost like they have accents.

In contrast to the melancholic songs of the whale, we find the excited pips of dolphins who use high pitched beeps to paint a picture of the world around them.  Their language of squeaks and chirps lets them communicate with each other and whistles are used in a similar way to names, they are unique to each dolphin and seem to be a sort of greeting, an announcement that you’re there.

Apparently, dolphins are also able to mimic sounds and one scientific paper suggest they may even sleep talk in whale song.

We have long been fascinated by dolphins, ancient Greek mariners listened to them through the hulls of their ships and according to Aristotle in about 344 BC, they even heard dolphins snoring!  NB, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that they do actually snore…


The term crustaceans covers a vast array of marine species including crabs, lobsters, shrimp and barnacles.  They are united by their exoskeleton and some use this to produce sound.

For example, the snapping shrimp are rather noisy creatures, especially given their size.  They produce a crackling, sizzling sound by clicking their claws.  They do this to stun prey,deter predators, and to communicate with others.

Hermit crabs make a noise by rubbing its body parts together or rubbing against the inside of their shell and do so as a sign of aggression.  Male fiddler and ghost crabs use acoustical signals to call to females during breeding season and are apparently unique amongst crustaceans in doing so.  Other species use sound once they’ve found a potential mate but not to call out.

Spiny lobsters make a rasping sound by rubbing a piece of soft tissue, called a plectrum, against a smooth, stuff file near their eye.  Essentially they move the plectrum over the file in the way that a bow is moved over the strings of a violin.


We tend to think of fish as silent, except for the occasional little noise of their mouths opening and closing but this isn’t the case.  They produce sound using their swim bladders and their teeth that include grunts, croaks, clicks and snaps.

When it comes to mating, it is usually the male that makes the sound.  Some fish come together in large groups to ‘sing’ and may continue for hours, dominating the local soundscape.  Fish, such as the oyster toadfish, that live in murky water, need to make use of sound to find a mate as vision is limited.

The other key reason that fish make noise is when they are threatened, want to show aggression or need to defend their territory.

For some fish, instead of producing sound, it is listening that is crucial.  Many coral reef fish have a stage in their life where they go away from the reef, returning at a later time to mature.  These fish, such as the clownfish, need to know how to return and it’s thought the song of the reef provides a road map.

The song of the reef

A healthy coral reef is not a quiet place.  When they are teeming with life, they are one of the noisiest places in the ocean, making a sound like crackling popcorn thanks to the snapping shrimp.

The sound landscape changes throughout the day, with a rhythm like birds on land.  Fish have dawn and dusk songs and different creatures call at night than during the day.

Sea urchins are one of the contributors to the evening chorus.  Kina sea urchins dominate New Zealand waters with the sound of their eating.  And that specific local flavour to the music of the ocean is important for our little critters which are searching for home, or for a healthy reef to start new life on.


The song of the ocean is not a static one, it is not a consistent one.  It changes as the day passes, it changes by season and by locality and it changes based on the health of the sea.

There are many recordings of ocean music and of particular species but these are two I found helpful:


Dolphin: Animal Dreaming


Dolphin: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Cards

As awesome as the dolphin is, I’m not sure I can add much to my wild unknown post, particularly given the keyword here is breath.  Go check out that post instead!


Dolphin: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Cards


Those of you who are ardently following along will notice that this post is out of order.  The reason for this is that vertigo halted my writing so I haven’t been able to get my teeth into the water suit but as Dolphin Day is 14th April I wanted to get this up.

I am still struggling to read and write as I put together this post so apologies for any typos etc.  I also have a plaster on my finger which is having far more impact on typing than I imagined!  It is also likely to be shorter than I would have liked, perhaps that’s a good thing!

Now, to the dolphin!

If you’ve ever seen a dolphin, you are probably familiar with the sense of awe and wonder and the smile that spreads across your face.  These graceful, acrobatic sea queens are truly soul lifting.

It is probably because of this that we know so much about these sea dwelling creatures, especially when compared to the rest of the ocean inhabitants…

For the purposes of keeping this relatively short, I’m going to focus on a few key areas which I feel are most important when it comes to the dolphin as a spirit animal; breath, intellect, communication and mythology.


The dolphin is commonly associated with breath.  Whilst many people think of them as fish, they are mammals and as such they must surface regularly to breathe…

Their reliance on coming to the surface to breath links them with the element of air so we see the dolphin encapsulating the relationship and balance that comes with water and air, heart and mind.  The dolphin comes to the surfaces, takes a deep breath of thoughtfulness and then dives deep into the realm of emotions, thus shining some clarity on the chaos of the depths.  Air is also about communication so perhaps the dolphin can help you to share your emotions with others.

Anyone who has done any meditation*, yoga or mindfullness will be aware of the importance of breath in these practices.  Breathing is also important when it comes to anxiety, anger and many physical things.  When you are caught up in the moment and rushing 100 miles an hour, sometimes taking a moment to pay attention to your breath, just for a couple of seconds, can really help you to feel in control.  If breath work feels like it might be helpful to you, google it, there’s lots online and many people far better able to guide you than I am.

What I do want to add though, is stop for a moment and think about how you are breathing.  I know that I rarely breath properly.  Yes I get oxygen into my lungs etc but I have spent so much of my life constricting myself and making myself small that I don’t breathe as deeply as I should.  Similarly when I’m tense or in pain my breathing becomes shallow and that can feel like anxiety and as a result actually generate anxiety.  Even as I write this, I am aware I am not breathing in or out fully.  I am holding myself on the edge of something, fear?



Dolphins have echolocation which helps them to find their food but it also allows them to communicate with other dolphins.  In addition, they use a mixture of clicks, body language and movements to talk, for example somersaults and lobtailing to convey info and body rubbing and touching fins to strengthen bonds.

The dolphin is asking us to think about our own communication, especially non verbal communication.  We touched on this in another card and when I’m feeling better I’ll find the animal and add a link rather than repeating myself.  Essentially we considered whether what we are saying verbally is aligned with what we are saying through our actions and our body language.

This focus on communication echoes the dolphin’s emphasis on community and is echoed by what we will consider next.


Doplhins are highly sociable animals and they utilise this to help with hunting.  They coordinate themselves and work as a team to find and then corralle fish etc.  Perhaps the dolphin card is a message to you to take someone diving with you.  Plunging into your hidden emotions can be painful and difficult and having someone you trust alongside you may help whether that’s a friend or a professional.

Dolphin’s intelligence – they have a highly developed cerebellum and cerebal cortex which is involved in planning – and their long term memory will also aid their success.  When it comes to memory, at least in humans, they are not neutral.  Most people do not remember things precisely as they were and certainly not how they were from someone else’s perspective.  We can misremember major incidents which shape who we are today or may even have never known the full picture.  There is also a skewed sense of proportionality when it comes to memories – different experiences imprint on us more strongly than others.

An example may help to show what I mean:  You may vividly remember that time when your sister stole your doll but not when she saved all her pocket money to buy you sweets.  You may not know that she stole your doll because she’d had a really awful day and wanted some support and felt that your doll was a way of having you close.  I know this is a trivial example and the memories and events which shaped you are probably much more serious but I hope they illustrate what I’m saying about memory.

The deeper the memory, the murkier the water and the harder it is to see clearly, intellectually and impartially.

Dolphins have been shown to be self aware, one of the traits that’s used to measure intelligence; that is they recognise themselves in a mirror and know it’s not another dolphin.  This self awareness is such a vital part of any emotional work and if you’re reading your own oracle cards, you will be continually developing it.

Being self aware can, at times, feel like a curse (at least to me) but it truly is a gift.  Being self aware helps you to understand your emotions, yourself, your reactions and your overreactions.  For example, when a colleague didn’t say hi to me in the morning I used to react with fear, this person hates me and doesn’t want anything to do with me and so on.  Through working with my psychologist, I was able to establish particular core triggers.  So in the case of my colleague, I went straight from them not saying hello to being rejected or ignored, my two major triggers.  This allowed me to bring myself back down to earth and acknowledge why I had reacted so intensely and then look to reframe the incident.  It’s far more likely that they didn’t hear me or were busy or on the phone.  For me, the self aware stage where I looked at why I reacted that way, is so important.  I could have skipped it out and in doing so I’d probably have got cross with myself for overreacting.  Instead, the self aware stage allows me to treat myself with compassion – another dolphin trait.  I can acknowledge that this is a painful area for myself, but that it’s ok and that things don’t go straight from trigger to complete disaster in a matter of seconds.  I’m not sure how well I’m explaining this but self awareness can be such a powerful tool!  It can also be a vital tool when it comes to memory work – being self aware can help you step back and consider situations from other people’s perspectives as well as look at why you reacted the way you did.



When it comes to myths and legends, we see the theme of kindness, compassion and freedom repeated.

For example, in one Greek myth, there once was a great singer called Arion whose voice was so beautiful he won all the singing competitions.  He was sailing home with all his prizes when he was attacked by sailors who wanted to steal them. They threw Arion over the side of the boat and left him to drown.  Here he was saved by a dolphin who had been charmed by Arion’s music.  The dolphin carried him to shore and as a reward, was given a place in the sky and now appears to us as the constellation Delphinus.

The link between dolphins and music comes up in a variety of places and links us back to where we started, breath.

There are various gods and goddesses who could turn into dolphins or used them as transport.  There’s also the idea of the dolphin carrying the dead to the afterlife and they traditionally seem to be friendly.  Indeed, none of my exploration of the dolphin showed them portrayed negatively.  The closest I got was a link with the selkie myths (I shall go into them in more depth when I look at the seal).

The most powerful symbol of the dolphin I came across was the idea that two dolphins swimming together represents balance and two dolphins swimming apart represents involution and evolution.

And on that note, I shall leave you for now but I will return later to correct spelling and proofread it…

*I actualy wrote mediation which is interesting as a way of thinking about the link between the air and the water that keep the dolphin alive.  Perhaps that’s a topic for another day though…