Likening a young dolphin’s life to middle school — “but with sharks” — is just one way that Pamela Turner finds to engage her middle-school audience. She shows how even dolphin adolescents have to navigate friendships, enemies and bullies. The author of such exceptional children’s books as “A Life in the Wild” and “The Frog Scientist,” Turner knows how to bring readers right next to the researchers she’s shadowing. We see how Janet Mann , a Georgetown University professor, searches for dolphins from a small boat in Shark Bay off the coast of Western Australia. For 25 years, she has studied these wild bottlenose dolphins and recognizes hundreds of them by their fin markings. Fascinated as well as fond of them, Mann and her student assistants record the dolphins’ activities to figure out how they use their brains. It all comes down to survival, even when they are playing, and Turner lucidly explains the dolphins’ varied techniques of food gathering, as well as the scientists’ research. Mann has discovered, for instance, how certain (mostly female) dolphins manage to put a piece of sponge on their noses in order to root out nutritious fish from channel bottoms. These “spongers” are among the few wild animals to master the use of a tool. Full of intriguing insights into the social dynamics of these “creatures with lives juicy with drama,” the book ends on a hopeful note of kindred resourcefulness: “Their big brains offer them the same things our big brains offer us: possibilities.”

Abby McGanney Nolan


By Pamela S. Turner. Photographs by Scott Tuason

Houghton Mifflin. $18.99. Ages 10-14

“The Dolphins of Shark Bay” by Pamela S. Turner. (HMH Books for Young Readers)