- A NASA project in the 1960s attempted to bridge the communication gap between humans and dolphins by teaching them to recognize and pronounce human words.
- Margaret Howe Lovatt, a participant in the project, formed an unexpected bond with one of the dolphins named Peter, which went beyond just linguistic experimentation.
- The project ultimately ended due to a scandal surrounding Lovatt’s relationship with Peter, as well as ethical concerns surrounding the use of LSD on the dolphins by another project manager.
In the 1960s, a NASA project to search for intelligence in other living things brought a woman up close and personal with a dolphin.
Her name was Margaret Howe Lovatt, and she was part of a project in which she would try to make three dolphins pronounce human words or at least recognize them.
However, the woman and one of the dolphins in the experiment ended up falling in love: “I had a very close encounter with-I can’t even say dolphin again, with Peter.”
Three dolphins were involved in the project, two females and a young male named Peter. The lab’s director, Bateson, hoped the dolphin’s huge brain could develop human-like intelligence.
For its part, NASA intended to use these experiments in case it tried to contact extraterrestrials.
NASA project where a dolphin fell in love with a human woman
At the end of the first sessions of the NASA project, everyone went home, but for Margaret Howe Lovatt to go home leaving the dolphins, there was quite inhumane.
She began to stay with them to actually live with them, which was part of the project, to try, in a way, to ‘raise’ them,
However, something unexpected happened in the 6-month project, gradually making Lovatt interested only in Peter.
Peter, who was a young dolphin that was maturing sexually, began to become obsessed with Lovett. This began to affect the linguistics lessons Margaret was teaching the dolphins.
“He was very, very interested in my anatomy. If I was sitting here and my legs were in the water, he would look at the back of my knee for a long time. He wanted to know how that thing worked, and I loved it,” notes The Guardian publication in 2014.
“Peter liked being with me,” Lovatt explained. The woman said the dolphin Peter would rub on her knee or foot “or my hand.” She said she initially tried to take him with the female dolphins. However, taking him with them proved detrimental to the lessons.
What was happening was that Peter, being in captivity, had constant arousal, so Lovatt began to relieve his sexual urges “manually.”
“I wasn’t uncomfortable with it as long as it wasn’t rough. It would become part of what was going on, like an itch: get rid of it, scratch it and keep going. And that’s how it seemed to work. It wasn’t private. People could watch.”
For Margaret Lovett, what was going on with Peter was not really sexual, but rather, she says, trying to relieve that tension so she could continue with the lessons. “It wasn’t sexual on my part. Sensual maybe. I felt it made the bond closer. Not because of the sexual activity,” the NASA project woman said.
At the same time, ‘easing’ Peter made her connect much more with the dolphin: “I was there to meet Peter. That was part of Peter.”
Lovatt’s sexual encounters with Peter ended the experiment when in late 1970, what was going on between her and the dolphin was published in Hustler magazine.
Lovatt says she tried to buy every copy of the magazine from the island where she lived, but the story was circulating everywhere, even to this day on the Internet.
NASA’s dolphin experiment did not end because of Margaret Lovett’s intimate relationship with her.
However, the scandal that occurred between the woman and the dolphin was not what really affected the NASA experiment.
Something that really overshadowed the project was that one of NASA’s project managers, John Lilly, was experimenting with LSD on animals.
Lilly actually had a permit from the U.S. government to experiment with LSD on animals, as it was believed to have the potential for treatments at the time.
However, Lovett points out that the dolphins did not respond to the drug, and it did not really seem to affect them.
The fact that John Lilly experimented with LSD on the two female dolphins caused the project director, Bateson, to oppose continuing with the project.
Closure of the dolphin-human female love project causes depression in Peter
The project’s closure made Lovett very sad, not only her but also Peter, the dolphin who had ended up in love with her.
“That relationship of having to be together turned into really enjoying being together, and wanting to be together, and missing him when he wasn’t there,” the woman reflected years after the experiment.
As Lovatt’s six-month experiment with Peter concluded, it was announced that the lab would close due to John Lilly’s arrogant attitude.
Lilly did not really think about the dolphins and neglected their welfare for his animal LSD project.
Sadly, the dolphin could not be cared for by Lovett, “it wasn’t a cat or a dog,” he said about the difficulties of taking the marine animal.
I got that phone call from John Lilly,” he recalls. “Jhon called to tell me. He said Pedro had committed suicide.
Peter went into a severe depression, and in protest mode at not seeing his beloved human again, he stopped taking in air, dying.