It was just for scientific porpoises!*
A scientist who had a "sensuous" relationship with a dolphin in the 1960s has come forward to talk about the wet and wild experience in the new documentary, "The Girl Who Talked To Dolphins," the Guardian reports.
Margaret Howe Lovatt worked as an assistant to Dr. John Lilly at Dolphin House in St. Thomas, according to the Telegraph. The aim of Lilly's work, partially funded by NASA, was to to study dolphin communication and explore the possibilities of communication between humans and dolphins.
In 1965, the 23-year-old Lovatt lived in isolation for 10 weeks with a bottlenose dolphin named Peter in an attempt to teach the animal human speech.
“The ultimate dream was to have a Cetacean chair at the United Nations where whales and dolphins would share their ideas with us," Christopher Riley, director of "The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins," explained to the Express.
Peter never learned to speak English, but he did practice the language of love.
"Peter was a young guy," Lovatt said, according to the Guardian. "He was sexually coming of age and a bit naughty."
Lovatt said that at first, she would take the randy dolphin for visits with female dolphins, but that started to take up too much time, so she opted to "relieve his desires herself manually," the documentary states.
Her notes from the time describe how she and Peter bonded. From the Telegraph:
“New totally unexpected sequence of events took place,” Lilly noted excitedly. “I feel that we are in the midst of a new becoming; moving into a previous unknown…” As Peter became increasingly gentle, tactile and sensitive to Howe’s feelings he began to “woo” her by softly stroking his teeth up and down her legs. “I stand very still, legs slightly apart, and Peter slides his mouth gently over my shin,” she wrote in her diary. “Peter is courting me… he has been most persistent and patient… Obviously a sexy business… The mood is very gentle, still and hushed… all movements are slow.”
"It was sexual on his part," Lovatt says in the video above. "It was not sexual on mine. Sensuous, perhaps.”
Andy Williamson, who was the veterinarian at Dolphin House, says "This dolphin was madly in love with her."
When Dr. Lilly began experimenting with LSD on dolphins, Lovatt disapproved, but felt she was powerless to stop him. However, she did insist that he never give the drug to Peter.
Other people also disapproved of Lilly's seeming lack of concern for the dolphin's welfare, and funding for his laboratory was ultimately cut. Peter was transferred to another of Lilly's labs in Miami, where the dolphin fell into a depression.
In a small tank, with little sunlight and separated from Lovatt, the dolphin committed suicide.
"Dolphins are not automatic air-breathers like we are," Ric O'Barry told The Guardian. "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."
While Lovatt maintains that she did not have any sexual attraction to the animal, that was not the case for Malcolm Brenner, whose book, "Wet Goddess," is based on his own purported 9-month relationship with a dolphin.
"The Girl Who Talked To Dolphins" premieres at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival on June 11.
*WE KNOW, dolphins aren't porpoises.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Lovatt lived in isolation with the dolphin for six months. The isolation portion of the experiment lasted only about 10 weeks. Additionally, we incorrectly stated that Lovatt is currently 97 years old. As she was 23 in 1965, this is incorrect.