It was NASA funded.
It happened for ten weeks in the 1960s at Caribbean-situated Dolphin Point, often called the Dolphinarum.
There was inter-species salaciousness.
And it ended in dolphin suicide.
When we tuned into the middle of the documentary “The Girl Who Talked with Dolphins,” it almost immediately felt like (for me) the villain here was Margaret Howe, the untrained 23-year-old who took it upon herself to teach English to Peter, an adolescent bottlenosed dolphin.
Invited by Gregory Bateson, an eccentric counterculture scientist and the director of the lab, Margaret dove head first (pun intended) into the experiment, inventing such techniques as painting her lower face white but her mouth black so that Peter could “read her lips.”
Peter was having trouble pronouncing the letter “M,” you see.
Although one had to ask: should Peter be trying to pronounce the letter “M”?
Bateson wasn’t the villain here. He was only interested in dolphin-to-dolphin communication, not instructing them on the finer points of English syntax.
According to The Real Clear Science:
Scientists do know that dolphins are incredibly intelligent, large-brained, and highly social mammals — like us in these respects. Scientists have also found that dolphins are capable of mirror self-recognition, a primary indicator of self-awareness.
And don’t forget the dolphins saving humans thing:
In two (sort of) similar incidents, one in 2004 and one in 2007, pods of dolphins circled imperiled surfers for over thirty minutes in order to ward off aggressive great white sharks. And in 2000, a fourteen year old boy fell off a boat in the Adriatic Sea and nearly drowned before…a dolphin swam up alongside the boy and pushed him back to the boat from which he had fallen.
Far from being merely a modern phenomenon, historical accounts show that dolphins have been saving humans for centuries. In the 1700s, a pod of dolphins helped rescue Vietnamese sailors when their boat was sunk by Chinese invaders. According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, recorded stories of dolphins protecting humans date back to ancient Greece.
In the end, did Peter learn English? I think a little bit. Some of his shrill vocalizations did sound like certain words that Margaret was pronouncing. She chastised him constantly whenever he returned to his natural chirps and whistles.
But she wasn’t the focus of contempt.
Even—at least not completely—when she helped relieve Peter during times of extreme sexual distraction.
Yes. Margaret regularly gave Peter hand jobs because, as a growing adolescent male, it had been taking too much time away from their studies (in her opinion) to transfer him to the upper levels to visit the two female dolphins, Pamela and Sissy.
As Shannon McKeogh humorously put it: https://www.shannonmckeogh.com/quirky/2017/9/26/dolphins-are-creepy
But Peter had other things on his mind, trying to woo his teacher. An extract from Margaret’s diary is a potential sequel to 50 shades of grey (dolphin): “I stand very still, legs slightly apart, and Peter slides his mouth gently over my shin…. The mood is very gentle, still and hushed…”
All of the contempt, and more, (IMO) should be leveled at equally eccentric neuroscientist John Lilly, isolation tank and LSD enthusiast (and the inspiration for Altered States) and funder of the entire Dolphinarium project.
After Lilly administered LSD to Pamela and Sissy and nothing happened (much to his annoyance), his attention toward the marine mammals’ potential ability to expound on key political movements in the US waned. So he cut the funding, and the lab closed.
Peter was shipped to Lilly’s Miami lab, a smaller tank with little or no sunlight. I’ve looked and looked, but can’t find out what happened to Pamela and Sissy. But sadly, it was in Lilly’s Mimi enclosure where Peter eventually sank to the bottom of the tank and never rose again.
Veterinarian Andy Williamson puts Peter’s death down to a broken heart, brought on by a separation from Margaret that he didn’t understand. “Margaret could rationalize it, but when she left, could Peter? Here’s the love of his life gone.”
I put it down to something much simpler: Peter didn’t give two sh**ts about elocution and missed Margaret very little. But he did miss the ocean, and like any of us would, he missed being free.