Margaret Howe Lovatt was a young research assistant when a scientist asked if she would isolate herself and live with a dolphin to see if the creatures could learn to speak in the human language. Sure, that’s pretty odd, but it actually gets stranger. The experiment allegedly led to a dolphin developing romantic feelings for Lovatt. Eventually, sexual encounters between the woman and the dolphin took place. While the pair never had actual intercourse, the controversy surrounding the experiment gave rise to uncomfortable questions. Can humans and dolphins have sex? Why was Lovatt giving a dolphin a handjob?

Dolphins are sexually frisky creatures in almost any setting. They’ve been known to be sexually aggressive, to the point where dolphins can sexually assault people and are more promiscuous than many other wild creatures. Still, dolphins having sex with humans is virtually unheard of, especially in a scientific setting. This scandalous experiment is one filled with drugs, misplaced romantic feelings, sexual deviance, and tragedy. Be warned: there are sexual interspecies topics below. Read at your own caution.

The Project Was Funded By NASA

Photo: MrMiscellanious / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

John Lilly was a neuroscientist who had been studying dolphins and other marine mammals for some time. He had a theory that dolphins, who sometimes mimicked human voices, might be able to be taught to speak English. This introduced the possibility of dialogue between humans and another species. It may seem like a far-fetched theory, but Lilly was widely respected at the time, so he was able to secure funding from NASA and opened a lab for dolphins in 1963.

His idea was to isolate three dolphins in different settings. He wanted to expose them to human language in various ways, so that they could possibly learn to talk and understand mankind. Lilly already knew that the animals had large brains and believed that this meant they had a greater capacity than most creatures to develop interspecies communication skills.

John Lilly Thought Dolphins Could Teach People How To Speak To Aliens

Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Use

John Lilly may have had deeper, more mystical motivations than just trying to get dolphins to speak. Lilly was, at the time, self-experimenting with LSD and also using it in official research as a neuroscientist. He speculated about the existence of extraterrestrial life. Of course, he wasn’t exactly advertising all this when he was seeking out funding. However, LSD research was underway and he was asked to also study its effects on animals during the experiment. Often, he took the drug himself while floating in an isolation tank. This would later prove to be a major factor in the project’s downfall.

According to an article in The Telegraph, Lilly hoped that studying dolphins communication could teach mankind how to contact and speak with aliens!

Margaret Howe Lovatt Moved Into A Flooded House

Video: YouTube

Lovatt was a research assistant in her early twenties when she signed on for the project in 1964. Right away, she showed a particular flair for working with animals and Lilly took notice. Lilly decided to isolate Lovatt with the young male dolphin, called Peter, because he had not yet received human sound training. He set up a “dolphinarium” or “Dolphin House” by waterproofing the floor of a house and flooding it so that Lovatt and the dolphin could live together under observation.

One would think that, as a young research assistant, the prospect of living with a dolphin would be a terrifying one. However, Lovatt was actually up for it and even volunteered to do it! She began living there in isolation with Peter the dolphin, sleeping, eating, playing, and living her daily life with the young creature.

The Dolphins Knew Celebrities

Photo: Frank Carroll / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The three dolphins used in Lilly’s experiment were connected to a dolphin celebrity. As it turns out, the person who first introduced Lilly to LSD was Ivan Tors, the producer of the movie Flipper. And perhaps given this close relation, Lilly was able to get three dolphins from Marine Studios – a kind of early Sea World where dolphins performed.

Lilly’s dolphins were named Pamela, Sissy, and Peter, and each dolphin had their own unique personality. As Lovatt remembers it: “There were three dolphins… Peter, Pamela, and Sissy. Sissy was the biggest. Pushy, loud, she sort of ran the show. Pamela was very shy and fearful. And Peter was a young guy. He was sexually coming of age and a bit naughty.”

Peter Started To Show Sexual Urges

While Peter was a good learner and responded well to Lovatt, he was a maturing dolphin who was beginning to have rather uncomfortable needs. He began to exhibit courtship behavior towards Lovatt, including gently biting her on her legs, caressing her, and even rubbing himself on her ankles or feet.

This, of course, was a major inconvenience during training sessions, and Peter would become distracted as he became more worked up. In order to help relieve some of the tension, Peter would briefly be moved back to the tank with the other two females, where one assumes he could flirt and ease his urges in peace. But this constant moving was time-consuming. Lovatt knew that some other solution would have to be found.

Margaret Eventually Chose To Relieve The Dolphin’s Sexual Urges Herself

For many, this was where the experiment really started to go off the deep end. Lovatt decided that, in order to keep her dolphin student focused, it would be beneficial for her to relieve his sexual urges. After all, he was showing a great deal of affection and sexual interest in her, and she was his main source of interaction. She began to pleasure him manually, in order to alleviate his sexual tension, and the lessons continued as usual.

Although Lovatt claims that there were no sexual feelings on her part when relieving Peter, she does speak of the experience being “sensuous”:

It wasn’t sexual on my part. 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.

This Isn’t The First Time Dolphins And Humans Have Had Sexual Interactions

Photo: Thea Boodhoo / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Malcolm Brenner wrote a book called Wet Goddess about a sexual affair he had with a female dolphin named Dolly. He was working with her at an amusement park in Florida when he claims she began to show sexual urges towards him. He describes how he and Dolly waited until the park was closed before “getting it on.”

It’s true that dolphins have often demonstrated aggressive sexual behavior towards each other. There are numerous reports of wild dolphins sexually assaulting (or at least annoying) swimmers. However, Lovatt may have been the first to ever experience sexual dolphin interactions in a scientific setting.

‘Hustler’ Published An Article On Their ‘Relationship,’ Exposing The Sexual Nature Of The Experiment To The World

The sexual aspect of the scientific experiment could have easily been overlooked if a certain magazine hadn’t gotten word of what was going on. In the late 1970s, Hustler found out about a young research assistant who was supposedly having sexual interactions with a male dolphin. Right away, they wrote up an article on the pair, talking about how the two of them would have sex and how lewd and scandalous the whole thing was. There was even a racy drawing.

Lovatt had not even heard of Hustler at the time the article was published. But when it came to her attention, she was terribly embarrassed. She tried to buy up all the copies, but it was too late – word was out. The magazine and other sources claimed that the experiment was laughable, but Lovatt disagreed:

It’s a bit uncomfortable. 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.

No Talking Was Happening, So Lilly Gave The Dolphins LSD

Photo: Erik Fenderson / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Throughout the experiment of trying to teach dolphins the human language, Lilly wasn’t getting the results he’d hoped for. There was no human-level talking going on.

At some point, Lilly decided to take matters into his own hands and injected the dolphins with LSD. Lovatt did not approve, but as a mere assistant, she felt powerless to stop it – though she kept Peter safe from the drug. While it didn’t seem that the drug had any effect on the other two dolphins, Lilly claimed that they were much more vocal after being injected. His funding organizations did not agree. The lab director couldn’t stand the treatment of the animals, so he left.

Soon after, the experiment’s funding was completely cut. Lovatt, who had lived with Peter for six months, was told that the dolphins would be moved to a different facility. She and Peter were permanently separated.

After Being Separated From Lovatt, Peter Took His Life

What became of Peter? Peter was moved to a small lab in Miami, where it was obvious to the people who worked with Peter that he was distressed. His health and mental state began to decline. After only a few weeks at this new lab, Peter died of suicide. Allegedly, the dolphin simply sank to the bottom of the tank and refused to go to the surface to breathe. He let himself drown.

Peter’s death has largely been blamed on the carelessness of Lilly and his team. As a result of the dolphin’s tragic end, the romantic interspecies relationship that was allowed to occur in the name of science has been criticized as “cruel” and shortsighted.

Lovatt Eventually Married The Project’s Photographer

Video: YouTube

What became of Lovatt? She had a rather happy ending, despite all the rumors and controversy surrounding the experiment. Lovatt became very close to the photographer of the experiment, a man by the name of John Lovatt. She left the experiment to be with him. The two were eventually married and had children together.

Oddly, after some time had passed, the Lovatt family decided to move back to the scene of Lovatt’s most scandalous experience. They stayed on the island and bought the house that had once been the dolphinarium. In the end, Lovatt looks back fondly on the experiment, and what it has meant to others:

Over the years, I have received letters from people who are working with dolphins themselves… They often say things like: ‘When I was seven, I read about you living with a dolphin, and that’s what started it all for me.