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Sounding, by Hank Searls. New York: Ballantine Books. 214 pp. $5.95.

This is a slow, graceful story about whales -- their habits, cultures, and thoughts.An aging bull whale travels the seas to sound out a message to his old herd: Man has stopped his killing of whales. Meanwhile, a Soviet sub perches on the brink of a chasm in the ocean depths off the US East Coast. The crew is gradually losing their oxygen and their collective sanity, while the political officer on board refuses to allow them to call for help.Though events move quickly at the end and perhaps wrap themselves up a bit too neatly, the fascinating facts and fictional aspects of this book create an absorbing tale.

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