Only English Spoken Here

dolphins

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.

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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”?

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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.

romans

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.

girl and dolphin

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…”

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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.

john

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.

free

32 thoughts on “Only English Spoken Here

  1. Wow, I do believe I’m having a surreal moment here. Are humans the freakiest species on the planet or what? I hope every human involved has gotten karmic payback many times over. Convenient that Christianity has that phrase “forgive them for they know not what they do.” The F*CK they don’t.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Li. Yeah, humans. Blinders and rationalization and denial have done a lot of damage, but it seems to be our status quo. Maybe among some more than others. And we all know on some level when we’re wrong, for sure, unless we’re sociopaths.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I’ve seen this before and loved it. So curious! The one with the orangutan and the “magic” trick– that monkey really IS laughing, it seems like. Sweet.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi! Thanks for asking. Yeah, it’s a complicated story that I compressed very greatly here. For me, the main takeaway is the amazing narcissistic and egocentric tendencies surrounding human beings when it comes to the treatment of “animals.” I know things are different now, and actually, I’m not even a huge fan of PETA, ’cause I think they tend to go overboard quite a bit. But I always question the ethics of keeping any animal in a cage, from birds to the zoo, but the paradox here, in particular, is assuming/theorizing about the vast intelligence of a creature like a dolphin while conversely keeping it locked up, forcing it to “talk” with its blowhole, and administering hallucinogenics to it without its consent. And let’s not even get into Margaret’s hand jobs, lol, completely unjustifiable behavior, but human beings can justify anything to themselves if they try hard enough.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Ha. Sorry to freak you out. Unfortunately, Margaret remains steadfast that nothing was wrong with her studies, so… yeah. No evolution on HER part….

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Caging any animal is cruel and thoughtless. Our neighbour houses a pair of male rabbits on the other side of our fence, in a terribly confined space that hosts massive fights with fur flying. Take a look at the lethargy of zoo animals, captured and trapped. Humans can be quite disgraceful. Was it always thus?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi, Kev. Last time I was at the zoo, over 20 years ago when my stepson was a kid, yeah, the lethargy and also OCD of some animals (bears and big cats pacing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth) was very disturbing. And obviously, ’cause it’s not normal. And like I said above to someone, Margaret still thinks everything she did was okay, even years later, today!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Stace, just heard a guy saying California is mandating indoor mask wearing!!! Is that true? There must surely be a stage where people say ‘enough is enough’? In Britain, we have dropped any mask mandates, just two days ago. Interested in what you can tell me 🙂🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, the masks are back, evidently. Apparently covid cases are rising exponentially here again and things are supposedly getting out of control quickly. I know everyone’s at the end of their patience for sure. But now the variant is making its rounds. Like 99 percent of hospitalizations (mostly in the South) are, they say, are unvaccinated peeps. I don’t know, Kev! The variants !!! On the one hand one thinks, okay, will there be more and more variants, will this never end?! On the other hand one wonders why are there variants?! That are stronger than the last one? It’s not normal “virus/flu” behavior. The mystery grows more and more concerning its origins…………..
        Will we never be free?!

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      • PS: Sean Hannity, a conservative pro-Trump “I probably won’t get vaccinated” commentator here just the other day suddenly did a 180 and sent a plea out to America to please, please, please get vaccinated. “We don’t need any more deaths! Talk to your doctor, do your research, get vaccinated.”
        So THAT’S very weird. When those kinds of things happen, I always wonder at the motivation. Real or… something else? Like, where’s it coming from?!

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  4. I … um … wow. I wonder if that project was actually the inspiration for that “Day of the Dolphin” movie. The book was written in 1967.
    I guess the thing that this post brings up for me is an internal awareness that I tend to have a stronger negative gut response to mistreatment of intelligent animals (pigs, dolphins, monkeys, elephants, dogs) than to less intelligent animals (toads, turkeys, mussels, goldfish). Is that wrong? Aren’t all animals equal in the eyes of God?
    Anyway, I guess my main takeaway here is that some girl in the 60’s was regularly giving a dolphin hand jobs with no legal consequences. And would I have felt any more strongly if she’d been giving hand jobs to a goldfish? I don’t know. Something to ponder.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ha. Well, it would be hard to turn away a gold fish wearing such attractive sunglasses, don’t you think?
    But in all seriousness, yeah. I think “with no legal consequences” pretty much says it all !!

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  6. Kind of a weird story!
    And with Gregory Bateson, in it!
    English anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, visual anthropologist, semiotician, and cyberneticist. which I had read in the past. His first wife was Margaret Mead, quite famous as well.
    Oh well…what the hell I know about people weird behavior…🤦‍♂️

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  7. Well, there’s a chance that he had no idea of everything Margaret was up to with the dolphins. Like… the extent of it, you know? He was only interested in dolphin to dolphin communication, like a normal person…..

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    • I have no idea, nor do I care to try picturing that activity, John, lol !!!
      As for the dolphin–apparently, he instigated it.
      If he was around today, Margaret probably would have leveled a woke lawsuit on his dolphin butt !!!

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  8. Very, VERY accommodating, right?! That poor dolphin. He deserved A LOT better.
    I’m well, we’re fine here (knock on wood) and very lucky, considering everything.
    You sound good AND happy! The job has turned out to be an amazing blend of pros and cons and pros again, I hear….

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  9. Remember watching this bonkos and totally fascinating doc on the BBC some years back. It’s one of those stories that really blow-holes your mind! (sorry that’s bad). I loved your “50 shades of grey (dolphin)” though 🙂
    I know it’s the only real way to get us blokes to concentrate and to stop us from being so ferkin annoying but yeah the interspecies hand-jobs was a completely crazy idea! Besides, quite frankly, what goes on Dolphinarium tour stays on tour! Did she really need to reveal that? OK, it made for the best telly. “OH NO SHE DIDN’T” LOL hundreds of people shouted at the TV across the world. Joking aside, it did get very sad at the end…

    Did you ever see the chimpanzee one called “Project Nim”. That was incredible. I couldn’t recall the name, went on a google search I see there’s a new recent related one too called “Lucy The Human Chimp” Say’s it was on HBO Max this a few months back. I’m off to investigate.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Ah, so you’ve already seen the insanity, lol !! People who first heard about this were freaking out. And I guess it does deserve that. But really–good advice, Mikey–“What happens in the Dolphinarium stays in the Dolphinarium.”
    We all would have been better off if she’d followed that rule !!!
    Have NOT seen any of the chimp documentaries. Writing the titles down now. Hopefully one day….will be able to see one or both…….

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m so late to this! What an interesting and riveting piece. I was a big follower of this research back in the day and tracked all sorts of stuff by Bateson and Lilly on the questions that dolphins and various primates present us with. Growing up I knew some of the early researchers on chimp communication. They also did experiments with dogs that were quite interesting. It’s all pretty heartbreaking and dangerous at the same time as being so full of potential. Thanks so much for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks for dropping by! Yeah, if only we could somehow keep the potential part and get rid of heartbreaking and dangerous……

    Like

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