A poetic non-fiction book vegans will enjoy

Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons From Marine Mammals by queer Black feminist “love evangelist” Alexis Pauline Gumbs was written during the pandemic and published in 2020 by AK Press. It’s based on social media posts Gumbs shared while researching marine mammals. She describes it as “a book-length meditation for social movements and our whole species based on the subversive and transformative guidance of marine mammals.”

Gumbs is an academic poet whose work revolves around Black feminist theory and visionary fiction. I describe it as a mashup of academic work and poetry.


Is Undrowned a memoir?

No, this book isn’t a memoir. Many books by authors of colour that were recommended to me as a memoir are not! Gumbs has a unique voice though. So long as you’re interested in learning about marine mammals, you’ll get a few fiction-like passages in there that will spark your imagination and make you want to swim with dolphins.


Is Undrowned a vegan book?

Gumbs wasn’t vegan when she wrote the book, but she is now! I believe vegans will enjoy this. It’s a nice detraction from the usual books about food/cooking and health. If you’re an activist—especially for oceans and ocean life—this book is a good arsenal for the vegan argument, especially regarding the impact of fishing on marine life.


Other highlights of the book I enjoyed learning:

  • Gumbs mourns one species of whale that was wiped out in 27 years, in 18th century Europe.
  • She talks to the mammals she shares about, including a Black tip reef shark.
  • Dolphin mothers sing to babies in the womb.
  • A dolphin at Sea Life Park (Hawaii) died in four years. 140 dolphins, whales, or hybrids have died there. In 1975, the life span of a dolphin was 32 years.
  • Gumbs admires dorsal fins for their stability. She shares that her “dorsal practices” include writing, meditation, breathing, and pilates.
  • She likens anti-capitalistic and anti-patriarchal activities to white-bellied dolphins who travel together, eat in community, dive so deep that they’re not seen by humans, and flock to keep humans from following them.
  • White-beaked dolphins (that are black in colour) cannot adapt to ice. She likens this to Black people being “iced out” of communities.

Photo: White Beaked Dolphin by Natural England

  • Less than 20% of Amazon river dolphins survive in captivity (no shit!). The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is investigating a new whale species that has never been seen alive. I wouldn’t doubt they’re deliberately hiding.
  • Gumbs points out the racist and oppressive language present in scientific descriptions.
  • She likens the hiding of the narwhal’s existence to the treatment of Black people.
  • Capitalism is a primary cause of the suffering and endangerment of marine mammals because of commercial fishing and oil drilling. Gumbs asks, “Is it possible to untangle the consequences of centuries of rapacious greed?”
  • A grandmother North Atlantic whale gave birth eight times, and 3 of her babies died of entanglement in fish nets.
  • Viruses killed over 1000 dolphins in the Mediterranean sea from 1990 to 1992, 2007, and 2019 because of oil drilling.
  • Three marine mammals escaped observations.
  • There is a quiet species of whale whose voice is drowned out by the sound of ocean pollution.
  • Sea animals are millions of years old! The Hawaiian and Caribbean seal species split 3 million years ago. The Caribbean species has been declared extinct.
  • When Columbus arrived, he immediately began killing seals and using their blubber oil to lubricate plantation machinery. There’s a direct link between seal killing and slavery.
  • When two US military bases in Hawaii closed, the seal population increased.
  • It’s common for same sex dolphins to be companions for life.
  • WWII sonar operators thought that the bottom of the ocean was 400m deep, but it was tiny bladders reflecting sonar back to them.
  • The singing seal can delay pregnancy implantation until it’s ideal to give birth (when she’s ready).

The book also contains suggested activities, both for individuals and pods/squads.


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