During the 1960s, NASA funded an experiment that allowed animal researcher Margaret Howe Lovatt to teach dolphins how to speak English, but Lovatt ended up teaching one particular dolphin, Peter, far more than just the art of making words. And she's opening up about it for the first time.
An adolescent dolphin Lovatt described as "sexually coming of age," Peter bonded with Lovatt and would often rub himself on different parts of her body, pushing like "an obsessed suitor."
As part of the experiment, the two lived together in isolation for six days per week in a semi-aquatic environment called The Dolphin House. The living situation was employed in order to minimize possible disruption to the English lessons.
Soon, however, the relationship between Peter and Lovatt turned physical.
Lovatt implicitly says,
Peter liked to be... with me.
Dolphins are known to have sexual urges, says veterinarian Andy Williamson, who oversaw the dolphins' health in The Dolphin House during the experiment.
In the beginning of Peter's advances, Lovatt would send him to the downstairs area of the house to go play with the female dolphins, but this became too disruptive to the experiment. His arousals were too frequent.
Lovatt's solution? To relieve his urges, um, manually.
According to The Guardian, Lovatt says,
I allowed that. I wasn't uncomfortable with it, as long as it wasn't rough. It would just become part of what was going on, like an itch – just get rid of it, scratch it and move on. And that's how it seemed to work out. It wasn't private. People could observe it.
She claimed that the lovemaking sessions, while sexual for Peter, weren't necessarily sexual for her:
Sensuous, perhaps. It seemed to me that it made the bond closer. Not because of the sexual activity, but because of the lack of having to keep breaking. And that's really all it was. I was there to get to know Peter. That was part of Peter.
While this dolphin experiment was occurring, scientists were conducting a series of other experiments to test the effects of LSD. Select scientists were given permission to use the drug and inject it into animals -- dolphins included.
A scandal thus occurred. People assumed that Lovatt was injecting LSD into Peter and taking advantage of him. She vehemently denied these rumors and, despite the controversies, continued to have a relationship with the dolphin.
That relationship of having to be together sort of turned into really enjoying being together, and wanting to be together, and missing him when he wasn't there.
As people in the scientific community became more invested in LSD and less convinced that there was a purpose to teaching animals how to speak English, the funding to the dolphin experiment was cut. Lovatt and Peter were separated, and Peter was put into a different, smaller, less-lit tank in Miami.
As a result, Peter committed suicide.
Dolphins are not automatic air-breathers like we are. Every breath is a conscious effort. If life becomes too unbearable, the dolphins just take a breath and they sink to the bottom. They don't take the next breath.
Williamson asserts that Peter died of a broken heart.
Margaret could rationalize it, but when she left, could Peter? Here's the love of his life gone.
The BBC documentary entitled "The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins" chronicles all the never-before-heard details of the dolphin experiment, Lovatt and her sexual encounters with Peter. It will air on BBC4 on June 17 at 9 pm.