News feeds are buzzing about “the woman who developed a sexual relationship with a dolphin.” The real-life story is much more involved, innocent, and eventually heartbreaking. A new documentary about the dolphin’s relationship with the human woman promises to explain it all.
The Girl Who Talked To Dolphins is a documentary about a young woman who was invited to live with a dolphin in the 1960s by a scientist who wanted to teach a dolphin to speak English. The documentary airs Tuesday on the BBC. For the first time, people involved with the Dolphin House experiment will reveal their secrets, which promises to show humans that dolphins are more like us than we ever imagined.
The dolphin experiment was funded by NASA, according to Buzzfeed. It was led by neurologist John C. Lilly and involved a six-year-old bottle-nose dolphin named Peter. Lilly’s assistant, Margaret Howe Lovatt, was invited to live with Peter during the course of the experiment. They were isolated from the world. Peter and Margaret spent their time eating, sleeping, playing and learning together. Howe’s job was to teach Peter how to communicate with her. Unfortunately, Peter was a young male dolphin who was unable to concentrate without attempting to relieve his sexual urges.
According to the documentary, Peter would rub up against her and would sometimes get rough as he was often found “pushing like an obsessed suitor.” Initially, they tried transporting Peter so that he could “spend time” with female dolphins. Margaret would put Peter on the elevator and say to him, “You go play with the girls for a day.”
As Peter matured, his urges became more frequent, and transporting him to the female dolphins became disruptive of the dolphin’s English lessons. 23-year-old Margaret felt that the best way to help him concentrate was just to manually relieve his urges herself. “Again, it was sexual on his part. It was not sexual on mine. Sensuous, perhaps,” Margaret explained. “Like an itch. Just get rid of that. We’ll scratch it and we’ll be done. Move on. And that’s really all it was. I was there to get to know Peter. That was part of Peter.”
“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,” Margaret explained. “I did have a very close encounter with – I can’t even say a dolphin again – with Peter.”
Lovatt said that the amazing work at the Dolphin House was overshadowed in the media by the innocent sexual satisfaction she offered Peter in order to try to ensure he would concentrate on her communication lessons.
Hustler even picked up the story and ran with it.
“It’s a bit uncomfortable,” she acknowledges. “The worst experiment in the world, I’ve read somewhere, was me and Peter. That’s fine, I don’t mind. But that was not the point of it, nor the result of it. So I just ignore it.”
The scientist worried about Peter and what would happen after the experiment. He said, “This dolphin was madly in love with her.”
Eventually, the project lost its funding, The Guardian explained. Peter was shipped back to Miami where, after a few weeks, Peter committed suicide. “I got that phone call from John Lilly,” Margaret explained. “John called me himself to tell me. He said Peter had committed suicide.”
“Dolphins are not automatic air-breathers like we are,” Ric O’Barry explained. “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.” That is what Peter did. Margaret was his entire world thanks to the science experiment. He was pair-bonded to her and couldn’t cope with the loss of her, according to the veterinarian.
“Margaret could rationalize it, but when she left, could Peter?” Andy Williamson, Peter’s veterinarian, said. “Here’s the love of his life gone.” Williamson said the dolphin died of a broken heart because he was so devastated that the woman he had been sexually, intimately, and emotionally involved with was suddenly gone.