Skip to main content
SAGE
Search form
  • 00:31

    [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • 00:35

    NARRATOR: In the Caribbean, on the shoreof one of the American Virgin Islands,sits a strange, crumbling building.[STATIC SOUND]It's a monument to perhaps the most remarkable periodin the history of animal science.[STATIC SOUND]In the 1960s, a group of researchers

  • 00:55

    NARRATOR [continued]: came here to study dolphins.

  • 00:57

    RIC O'BARRY: Dolphins have been here 65 million years.Gosh, we were just getting out of the trees.They know more than we do.

  • 01:05

    NARRATOR: Inspired by new discoveries about the animalmind, the researchers believed they could, for the first time,communicate with another species by teaching dolphins to speak.

  • 01:17

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: Why not?That's what I kept saying.Let's do this.[STATIC SOUND]

  • 01:22

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (RECORDING): Hello.[DOLPHIN SOUND]Speak English only, Peter.

  • 01:29

    NARRATOR: Their work had extraordinary ambition.Scientists believed if they could talk to dolphins,they could even talk to extraterrestrials.

  • 01:38

    JEFF BRIDGES: Are we alone in the Universe?Are there other creatures out therethat we might get to know?

  • 01:46

    PROFESSOR GRAHAM BURNETT: It wasn't science fiction.It was, wow, this is where we're going.[STATIC SOUND]

  • 01:54

    NARRATOR: But what started with '60s idealismwould spiral into the darkness of the decadeand end in tragedy.

  • 02:02

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: The worst experimentsin the world I've read somewhere was me and Peter.

  • 02:08

    NARRATOR: Until now, those involvedhave never spoken publicly about the experiment.[DOLPHIN SOUND]50 years on, they've broken their silenceto reveal just what happened within these walls.[DOLPHIN SOUND][WAVES]

  • 02:31

    NARRATOR [continued]: [MUSIC PLAYING]Communication is what defines us as humans.We're a social species, which wantsto talk to others, and not just other people.

  • 02:56

    NARRATOR [continued]: It's long been a human dream to be able to talk to the animals.

  • 03:02

    SPEAKER 1: Do this Vicky.[LIPS SOUND][LIPS SOUND]

  • 03:07

    NARRATOR: Early experiments in the 20th century involvedtrying to teach the great apes sign languageand even how to speak English.

  • 03:15

    SPEAKER 1: Another sound resembles the letter K.Vicky, sit up, girl.Come on.Do this.[K SOUND][LIPS SOUND]Vicky has to hold her hand over her nose.

  • 03:27

    NARRATOR: But by the end of the 1950s,there had been no real progress.And serious scientific attempts to talk to the animals groundto a halt. There was one person, however, who hadn't given up.His name was John Lilly.

  • 03:46

    JEFF BRIDGES: John Lilly [Jeff Bridges -Friend of John Lilly] was a scientist, a visionary,and maybe, above all, an explorer of the brainand the mind.

  • 04:04

    PROFESSOR GRAHAM BURNETT: Lilly is a fascinating character.He was a super-smart, [Professor Graham Burnett - Author,The Sounding of the Whale ] physics-oriented Caltech grad,who during the Second World War ends up working in an aviationphysiology laboratory doing experimental work on Americanpilots monitoring data about heart rates and respiration.

  • 04:26

    PROFESSOR GRAHAM BURNETT [continued]: And then subsequently, as his researchlife develops, increasingly interested in animals.

  • 04:36

    NARRATOR: By the late 1950s, Lilly was a respected brainscientist working for the American NationalInstitute of Mental Health.

  • 04:43

    JOHN LILLY: If one believes that they not only have the brainto learn it, but the--

  • 04:48

    NARRATOR: His area of expertise was what brains of animalscould tell us about our own.His wife Mary worked with him.

  • 04:56

    MARY LILLY: He was always interested in brains.And he would [Mary Lilly - Wife of John Lilly,1936 1959] find out what areas of the brains did what,that sort of thing.But it's easier to work on other species than humans.

  • 05:11

    JEFF BRIDGES: And there was one species whose brain fascinatedLilly above all others, an animal whichhuman beings believed was one of the cleverestand most ancient creatures on Earth, the bottlenosed dolphin,also often called the porpoise.[DOLPHIN SOUNDS]

  • 05:29

    JOHN LILLY: So they've been here 25 million years.[John Lilly] We haven't been here that long.We've only been here with our present brainsize about 2/10ths of a a million years.

  • 05:36

    PROFESSOR GRAHAM BURNETT: This is big brain.This is a bigger brain than were accustomed to working on.In fact, it's a bigger brain than a human brain.

  • 05:45

    NARRATOR: Lilly needed access to the dolphins super-sizedbrains.And he found it in Florida.

  • 05:52

    ANNOUNCER: Leaping 3 feet out of water and through a small hoopis only one of the accomplishments of Flippy,the pride of the Studios at Marine Land, Florida.Flippy gets a big kick out of demonstrating his high IQ.

  • 06:03

    PROFESSOR GRAHAM BURNETT: Marine Studios in Floridais one of the first institutions in the post-war periodto keep a bottlenose dolphin in captivity.Lilly makes his way down there in orderto have access to some of these animalsfor experimental purposes.

  • 06:21

    NARRATOR: Lilly began doing brain experimentson the dolphins and recording their reactions.One day in 1957, this research triggereda behavior that would change the course of his life.The first to spot it was Mary.Whilst John and his team were working nearby,she noticed something they'd missed.

  • 06:42

    MARY LILY: I came in.I heard John talking and the porpoisewould go ra, ra, ra like John.

  • 06:50

    SPEAKER 2: Chichi, Chichi, more and more fish.

  • 06:56

    MARY LILY: And then I realized it was hearing their voicesand imitating them.Then I went down to where they were operatingand told them that this was going on.And they were quite startled.

  • 07:12

    SPEAKER 2: More and more fish.

  • 07:16

    NARRATOR: Lilly was convinced the dolphin wasimitating the humans, trying to speak to them.If he was right, it would be one of the greatest discoveriesin the history of science.

  • 07:28

    PROFESSOR GRAHAM BURNETT: For the rest of his career,Lilly would write about and talk about that moment in 1957where it all popped open for him.He thinks that this indicates ambitionon their part to communicate with the beingsaround them that are human, a breakthrough of not justscientific, but potentially even world historic significance.

  • 07:50

    PROFESSOR GRAHAM BURNETT [continued]: Humans were being displaced from their positionatop the cosmos of intelligent creatures.We were not alone.[DOLPHIN SOUNDS]

  • 08:04

    ANNOUNCER: And now, here's Jack.[MUSIC PLAYING]

  • 08:09

    NARRATOR: Lilly believed his mimicking dolphinswould revolutionize the science of animal communication.For the first time, here was another specieswhich seemed to be trying to make contact with us.Then in 1961, he published a book revealing his findings.

  • 08:24

    JACK PARR: John, [Jack Parr Show Interview with John Lilly]what was your prediction in your book that caused such comment?

  • 08:29

    JOHN LILLY: I predicted that within a decade or twothat the human species would establish communicationwith another species.

  • 08:39

    JACK PARR: This is a scientist.This isn't some nut that I brought out here.This man knows what he-- he may be a little nutty.I don't know.

  • 08:46

    JOHN LILLY: Thank you.

  • 08:47

    JACK PARR: But he's a real acknowledged scientist.Now, roll this film.And you're going to see some interesting things.These are some of the sounds they make.What in the main do you think dolphins talk aboutamong each other?

  • 08:57

    JOHN LILLY: Oh, food, sex, and danger.

  • 09:00

    JACK PARR: It sounds like Westport, Connecticutto me there.[DOLPHIN SOUNDS]

  • 09:10

    SPEAKER 2: That's it [INAUDIBLE].Come on.Come on.[DOLPHIN SOUND]That's it.More.

  • 09:17

    NARRATOR: Lilly's talking dolphinscaptured the public's imagination.But for one group of people, his work had special significance.

  • 09:26

    ASTRONAUT: OK, periscope is in.Ignition. [ROCKET LAUNCH] Liftoff![MUSIC PLAYING]

  • 09:34

    NARRATOR: In early 1960s, Americawas in the midst of a space race,launching satellites and spacecraftto the moon and planets.

  • 09:44

    SPEAKER 3 (ON RADIO): This [INAUDIBLE] go for 88.

  • 09:46

    SPEAKER 4 (ON RADIO): OK, we'll go for 88 from here.Standby for decompression.

  • 09:50

    NARRATOR: And surprisingly, Lilly'sideas chimed with this new Space Age.They caught the eye of a team of American astronomerswho were searching for extraterrestrial life.They were led by Frank Drake.

  • 10:04

    DR. FRANK DRAKE: It was a very exciting book,because it had these new ideas. [Dr. Frank Drake -Founder of the SETI Institute], particularly the idea thatthere could be creatures as intelligent and sophisticatedin their thinking as us and yet living in a far differentmilieu.

  • 10:22

    NARRATOR: Drake and his team werepart of an official government funded projectto use radio telescopes to listenfor signals from other intelligent life in the galaxy.For them, Lilly's work was potentially groundbreaking.

  • 10:36

    DR. FRANK DRAKE: The possible intelligence of dolphinswas of special interest to me and the others whowere interested in extraterrestrial intelligentlife, because we wanted to understand as much as we couldabout what the challenges were goingto be in communicating with other intelligent species.There might be other civilizations

  • 10:57

    DR. FRANK DRAKE [continued]: in space attempting to send us messages. [Dr. FrankDrake, speaking in 1962] The detectionof extraterrestrial signals are goingto be one of the most exciting things that ever happened.Here was perhaps an example of another intelligent species,very different from us.It's vocal system was very different.Its means of communicating any information was different.

  • 11:20

    DR. FRANK DRAKE [continued]: It would tell us what was important,what we should specialize in, and whatwe should learn as much as we canabout what if we were to understandextraterrestrial intelligent life.

  • 11:30

    SPEAKER 5: 4 3, 2, [ROCKET LAUNCH] all enginesrunning.

  • 11:36

    NARRATOR: Lilly realized the astronomer's interest opened upan opportunity.America's space program was extremely well fundedthrough NASA.Here was his chance to get fundingfor a whole new phase of research.

  • 11:50

    PROFESSOR GRAHAM BURNETT: Lilly brilliantlypitches the Space Administration on the ideathat they need a model organism upon whichto experiment for the prospect of an encounter with aliens.

  • 12:10

    NARRATOR: NASA backed Lilly with many thousands of dollars.And with financial support from other government agencieslike the US Navy, he commissionedthe lab of his dreams.

  • 12:20

    ANNOUNCER: At St. Thomas in the VirginIslands stands a unique laboratory.

  • 12:23

    NARRATOR: In 1961, Lilly built a white modern villa righton the shore of St. Thomas, one of the American Virgin Islandsin the Caribbean.This was the dolphin house.Here, 1,000 miles from the American mainland,he would now focus on research into human communicationwith dolphins.

  • 12:43

    ANNOUNCER: Lilly has discovered that dolphins become quicklyresponsive to human companions.In daily playtime, they develop intense friendshipsand often prefer people to other dolphins.

  • 12:53

    NARRATOR: But Lilly would need a teamto help him carry out the work.

  • 12:56

    PROFESSOR GRAHAM BURNETT: Lilly was charismatic.And he attracted some brilliant and hardworking people.He recruits a very significant figure, Gregory Bateson,an anthropologist, who rounds out his team for thinkingbig about these animals.

  • 13:15

    NARRATOR: Gregory Bateson was an intellectual giant of his time.He had explored subjects like linguisticsand human anthropology at Cambridgein Sydney universities.Now, he was looking for an opportunityto study animal behavior.

  • 13:29

    GREGORY BATESON: I worked as an anthropologist.[Voice of Gregory Bateson] I looked around,and I was clear I didn't want to live in a lab.

  • 13:37

    LOIS BATESON: Gregory had been doing behavioral work [LoisBateson - WIfe of Gregory Bateson] not only with humans,but with otters.And we had in our house 17 octopusesthat we were studying their personal relationships, whichwas interesting.

  • 13:55

    NARRATOR: Bateson's area of interestwasn't humans communicating with animals,but rather how animals communicated with each other.[DOLPHIN SOUND]But in 1963, he was persuaded by Lillyto move his family out St. Thomas, includinghis 11-year-old stepson.

  • 14:13

    ERIC BATESON: My dad was much more interestedin the interaction between the dolphins,looking at the posture of pectoral fins. [Eric Bateson -Stepson of Gregory Bateson] does this mean something?Or the alignment of two animals swimming together.Is this sexual?Or is this just friendship?Or is this just waiting to be fed?

  • 14:34

    NARRATOR: The house was built over a single outdoor poolwhere the dolphins would live.Linked to the sea, it was cleaned by the tide.Lilly's new lab offered the best conditionspossible for the animals in captivity.And a window would allow Bateson to observe the creaturesunderwater.

  • 14:55

    ERIC BATESON: I actually thought it was fantastic.The water was absolutely crystalline.That was neat.It was all new.It was exotic.That's the best word I can say for it.The island's vet was also enlistedto ensure the well-being of Lilly's dolphins.

  • 15:16

    DR. ANDY WILLIAMSON: Dr. Lilly called me.And he put me through an interview [Dr.Andy Williamson - Vet for the Dolphin House 1962 1966]for his concern was the health of his animals.He wanted to be sure that I could relate to the dolphinsby putting me in the water with them.

  • 15:37

    NARRATOR: And then early in 1964, the lab had a visitor.Margaret Howe was an attractive 22-year-old college dropout,who had come to St Thomas in search of adventure.She had heard rumors about a strange houseat the end of the island which ha dolphins.

  • 15:54

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: I was curious.And I drove out and found signs saying, keep out.It was pretty isolated.I said, well, [Margaret Howe Lovatt] Iheard you had dolphins here.And I thought I'd come and see if there's anything I can door if there's any way I could help Gregory Bateson.

  • 16:14

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT [continued]: He sat me at the top of the spiral staircasewhere you could just look down.And he said, just sit here and writewhat you think is happening, what you see.You begin to think there's things going on other than justthe prettiness of it all.One of them is in front, one is in the back, one is above,

  • 16:34

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT [continued]: one is below, one jumped, the other one went ahead.And after an hour, I figured that Iwould start writing that.Gregory Bateson said, I like the way you wrote that.You think well on your feet.He said, you're able to see things.You could come here any time you want.

  • 16:54

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT [continued]: We can't pay you.But you can come here.Would you like to do that?Yes, I said, yes, thank you.I will come back here any time.So I did.

  • 17:06

    NARRATOR: Margaret Howe rounded off Lilly's human team.It was the dolphins that everyone was there to study.Lilly brought them from Marine Studios in Miami.Before coming to the Virgin Islands,they'd also been used in filming the movie Flipper.

  • 17:22

    ERIC BATESON: There were three animals at the VI lab.

  • 17:24

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: Peter, Pamela, and Sissy.Sissy was the biggest one. [DOLPHIN SOUNDS] She was pushy,loud, sort of ran the show.[DOLPHIN SOUNDS]

  • 17:39

    LOIS BATESON: So I had most of my relationship was with Sissy.[DOLPHIN SOUNDS]Very social.

  • 17:47

    ERIC BATESON: Pam, she wouldn't come near anybody.It took her a full year before I wasable to get close enough to her to stroke her.

  • 17:58

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: You were drawn to an animal whois shy and a little fearful.It makes you feel good when they will come,and you can help them over that.And that was Pamela.

  • 18:11

    NARRATOR: And then there was one male dolphin.

  • 18:14

    ERIC BATESON: Peter was an amateur male.I don't think he was fully mature.He was different.

  • 18:21

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: He was definitelya young guy, sexually coming of age I'm sure and liked Sissy.And Sissy was always having to--

  • 18:32

    LOIS BATESON: She'd bip, flip him off like that.And that's who they were.

  • 18:41

    NARRATOR: By February 1964, the lab was in full operation.[STATIC SOUND]Lilly was often away traveling, publicizing his workor raising funds so left much of the research to the others.[STATIC SOUND]He charged Margaret with picking up the mimicry work wherehe'd left off.It was her job to encourage the dolphins to copythe specific sounds of human speech.

  • 19:03

    NARRATOR [continued]: [DOLPHIN SOUNDS]Margaret began to focus on one of the dolphinsin particular, the male.

  • 19:10

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: I really chose to work with Peter,because he had not had any human-like sound training.The other two had.My first goal was to get him to listen while I speak.And then I would listen while he speaks.And we would set up this conversation typething where we could make some sort of progress.

  • 19:32

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT [continued]: [STATIC SOUND]

  • 19:37

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING):Today is January 27th.The time is 0900 hours.[DOLPHIN SOUNDS]Much of the work in the dolphin house was captured on tape.And these are the real sound recordingsof Margaret's lessons.

  • 19:54

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING): A, E, I, O.[DOLPHIN SOUNDS]

  • 20:08

    NARRATOR: But from the start, Peter was a reluctant pupil.

  • 20:12

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING): Speak for fish.[SPLASH]Don't squirt.

  • 20:20

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: He would listen to me.[DOLPHIN SOUND]And I would say, no, no, no, Peter,what I want you to do is count to three.You're going to say 1, 2, 3.And Peter wouldn't repeat everything I told him.He would work on the-- ahh, ohh, eeerrgho.[DOLPHIN SOUND]

  • 20:45

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT [continued]: 1, 2, 3.[DOLPHIN SOUNDS]You can do better, Peter.

  • 20:53

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: Oh, we had a few disagreements on things.He could slap his tail.You know when a dolphin is annoyed.1, 2, 3, I've already done that.1, 2, 3, I've told you've I've done it.I am going to do it one more time.1, 2, 3, and now that's it.Arrgh, and he disappeared.[DOLPHIN SOUND]

  • 21:21

    NARRATOR: The mimicry work seemed to have stalled.But then Margaret had an idea.It was very ambitious.

  • 21:28

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: Every night, wewould all get in our cars and pull the garage door downand click it.And everybody would drive away.And I thought, well, there's this big brain, threebig brains, floating around all night.What's really going on?And it amazed me that everybody kept leaving.

  • 21:48

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT [continued]: And I said, that's craziness.I said, I will stay.And I will do this.And Lilly said, what's that?I want to plaster everything and fill this place with water.I want to live here with Peter.And Lilly got very excited.

  • 22:09

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT [continued]: And he went for it.[MUSIC PLAYING]

  • 22:20

    NARRATOR: Margaret drew up radical plans for the house.She began completely redesigning the layout of the upstairsrooms, altering their shape and making them waterproof.

  • 22:32

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: The buildinghad not been built to flood.And we were going to flood the place comfortably kneedeep, a little bit deeper.And I didn't want to just be indoorsfor so long-- so the balcony as well.We flooded it.And it kept leaking.So we had to drain it all and plaster it up again.

  • 22:53

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT [continued]: It took a while.

  • 23:01

    ERIC BATESON: They had a giant elevator.And you kept the animal on the elevator with a sling under it.And that's how the animal got up and down.

  • 23:10

    NARRATOR: Margaret had created a domestic dolphin areawhere she and Peter could live togetherin a semi-aquatic environment.

  • 23:21

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: I had a deskhanging from the ceiling, a telephone, and a little stoveI could make tea. [CAMERA SHUTTER]I was on a foam cushion.And Peter would sleep next to me.And he would sleep as long as I did.And I lived there day and night.

  • 23:41

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT [continued]: And it was perfect.

  • 23:44

    NARRATOR: And so Margaret's extraordinary experiment began.Over the coming months, she would live with Peterin the dolphin house almost full time.Margaret would immerse him completelyin her world to try to teach him English like a mother teachinga child to speak.

  • 24:05

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING): 1 2, 3, 4.

  • 24:08

    NARRATOR: These are the audio recordings she made.

  • 24:10

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING):Today is [DOLPHIN SOUND] August 18.This is the morning lesson with Peter.Hello.[DOLPHIN SOUND]Hello.[DOLPHIN SOUND]Clearly, Peter.[DOLPHIN SOUND]

  • 24:32

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING) [continued]: What's on the [INAUDIBLE]?Come on.

  • 24:37

    NARRATOR: To help with Peter's pronunciation,Margaret wanted to draw his attention to the movementof her mouth and lips.

  • 24:46

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: His blowhole and my mouthwere trying to do the same thing.I actually put a white makeup, thick white and black,around my mouth so that when I was talking to himor teaching a word, he could really

  • 25:07

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT [continued]: see my blowhole, as it were.And I would really use my mouth with this make up on it.And his eye was in the air looking at my mouth.No question about it, he wanted to know whereis that noise coming from?What is that sound?

  • 25:23

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING): Fish in bucket.[DOLPHIN SOUND][STATIC SOUND]

  • 25:30

    NARRATOR: Despite Margaret's progress,the Batesons were not enthusiastic about Margaret'sexperiments.Whilst they were happy to swim with the dolphins,they didn't see the point of teaching them English.Lois's husband Gregory doubted its scientific merit.He meanwhile, was working with Pamela and Sissyin the sea pool.Gregory felt his research on dolphin

  • 25:52

    NARRATOR [continued]: to dolphin communication was of much more value than Margaret'swork with Peter.

  • 25:57

    LOIS BATESON: We liked Margaret.She was certainly trying to see if theycould be trained to speak English,which was an ambitious plan.It was interesting.But it wasn't our cup of tea.

  • 26:15

    NARRATOR: Despite the Bateson's doubts, Margaret persevered.She began using Peter's curiosity and playfulnessto keep him interested in the lessons.

  • 26:23

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: Whenever I would walk to him whether itwas me, or an object, or just my time, or my voice,he was interested in that.And that's very appealing, whether itwas a ball, or a toy, or a square shape,or whatever I was interested in, he would have to turn to that.

  • 26:47

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT [continued]: And he did.He loved to look at different shapes and different setsof things and little toys.

  • 26:54

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING):Let's go through all our toys, Peter.Ball.[DOLPHIN SOUND]Good.A block.[DOLPHIN SOUND]Good.Triangle.[DOLPHIN SOUND]Oh, nice, Peter, beautiful.We just hit it off.

  • 27:15

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING) [continued]: We had that connection.We were a team, and it just worked.

  • 27:26

    NARRATOR: Margaret's progress with Peter also intriguedthe astronomers.They wanted to know whether the experimentto talk to another species was producing results.In the Summer of 1965, they dispatchedthe famous astronomer, Carl Sagan.

  • 27:47

    CARL SAGAN: It's possible, [Carl Sagan ] but by no meanscertain that life on many of these planets evolvesinto beings, which are as advanced as we,or more advanced.

  • 27:58

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: Carl, I think,was into anything that had anythingto do with trying to speak to anything alien.Dolphins, they are another speciesin a different environment.And in that regard, I think the space people were interested.

  • 28:15

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING): Hello.[DOLPHIN SOUND]Oh, I like it.I like it.I like it.I like it, Peter.Good boy.

  • 28:25

    NARRATOR: It was clear to Sagan and the astronomersthat despite Margaret's progress,Peter was a long way from being able to understand and useEnglish.So instead of teaching the dolphins a human language,like the Batesons, they suggestedLilly try to find out how dolphinscommunicate with each other.

  • 28:43

    DR. FRANK DRAKE: The prime experimentwe suggested was to reveal just howcomplicated a message one dolphin could communicatewith another dolphin.And so we would suggest to have two dolphins, onein each tank of water separately,not able to see each other, but to beable to hear any phonation, one to the other

  • 29:04

    DR. FRANK DRAKE [continued]: and that he should teach one dolphin some procedure by whichit could obtain food and see if it couldtell the other dolphins how to do the same thing in its tank.This was a prime experiment to be done.But he was never able to do it.

  • 29:23

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING): Ball.

  • 29:25

    NARRATOR: Instead, Lilly instructed Margaret to continueher lessons with Peter.

  • 29:30

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING): Ball.Ball.Ball.[DOLPHIN SOUND]No.Ball.[DOLPHIN SOUND]That's better.Yes.Now, you got better.

  • 29:45

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: His vocalization got better.It was never clear.But it had control.And it had tone.And it had space between the words.The effort was there.And that's what impressed me.[DOLPHIN SOUND][CLAPPING]

  • 30:02

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING): You're a good chap.Yes, you are.Thank you, Peter.

  • 30:07

    NARRATOR: Despite Peter's progress,Lilly's interests away from the dolphin house were drifting.[MUSIC PLAYING]It was the mid 1960s, and a new mind-altering drughad been invented, LSD.

  • 30:29

    NARRATOR [continued]: [MUSIC PLAYING][LAUGHTER]Brain scientist Lilly became obsessed by howhumans reacted to it.

  • 30:51

    NARRATOR [continued]: He began experimenting on himself convincedthat it offered exciting new opportunities to explorethe mind.

  • 31:02

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: There was one timewhere he said, all right, I'm goingto go up and inject the LSD.And I said, whoa, I will have nothing to do with that.And I will stay out of that.And you stay out of my business, which was dolphins.

  • 31:20

    RIC O'BARRY: I could [Ric O'Barry -Friend of John Lilly] see the difference in John Lilly.He went from being a guy with a tieand a white coat, and a scientists, in his laboratoryto a full-blown hippie after a while.

  • 31:34

    JEFF BRIDGES: He was a real explorer of those drugs thatexpand our consciousness [Jeff Bridges -Friend of John Lilly].There weren't too many people with his expertiseand his scientific background thatwere doing that kind of work.

  • 31:48

    NARRATOR: John's self experimentation with LSDwas becoming a concern for Margaret.Something else was affecting her work with Peter.

  • 31:59

    DR. ANDY WILLIAMSON: They have sexual urges.[SPLASH] I'm sure Peter had plentyof thoughts along those lines.

  • 32:08

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: Peter liked to be with me.He would rub himself on my knee, or my foot, or my hand,or whatever.And I allowed that.I wasn't uncomfortable with that,as long as it wasn't too rough.

  • 32:21

    DR. ANDY WILLIAMSON: Peter causedMargaret some minor injuries on her legs and stufffrom pushing like an obsessed suitor.

  • 32:31

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: In the beginning,when he would get rambunctious and had this need,I would put him on the elevator, and say, yougo play with the girls for a day.[DOLPHIN SOUNDS]

  • 32:46

    NARRATOR: But as Peter's urges grew more frequent,the process of transporting him down to the two female dolphinsto satisfy him proved disruptive.Margaret felt the best way of focusing his mind backon the lessons was to relieve his desires herself manually.

  • 33:08

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: It was just easierto incorporate that and let it happen.It was very precious.It was very gentle.Peter was right there.He knew that I was right there.Again, it was sexual on his part.It was not sexual on mine, sensuous perhaps.It would just become part of what was going on like an itch.

  • 33:31

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT [continued]: Just get rid of that.We'll scratch it.And we'll be done.Move on.And that's really all it was.I was there to get to know Peter.That was part of Peter.

  • 33:42

    DR. ANDY WILLIAMSON: It was greatthat she was going to be damaged by that.But as a veterinarian, I wondered about poor Peter.This dolphin was madly in love with her.

  • 33:54

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING): Margaret.[DOLPHIN SOUND]

  • 34:03

    NARRATOR: As rumors about these stories surfaced,Lilly's founders began to have doubtsabout the value of the work.And from 1965 in the absence of more impressive results,they began to pull out.

  • 34:16

    DR. FRANK DRAKE: Any of the work with dophins [Dr. Frank Drake -Founder of the SETI Institute] was very difficult,time consuming, and expensive.And at that time, John was not adequatelyfinanced to really conduct the experiments thatneeded to be done.

  • 34:32

    NARRATOR: As funding for the dolphin houselooked increasingly shaky, Lilly was becoming desperatefor results to impress his backers.He turned to the one experiment he had so far resisted.

  • 34:43

    PROFESSOR GRAHAM BURNETT: Why wouldn't you go ahead and use[Professor Graham Burnett - Author,The Sounding of the Whale] this very powerful drug that hasbeen used to facilitate psychotherapy namely LSD.Take a little bit yourself so you'rea little more open to the alien world of the other.And, heck, while you're at it, give a little bit

  • 35:03

    PROFESSOR GRAHAM BURNETT [continued]: to the dolphin so that they're a little bit more kind ofopen to the communicative world of the other themselves.

  • 35:13

    NARRATOR: Lilly hoped that giving the dolphins LSDwould have a dramatic effect.In a note to Gregory Bateson, he evenwondered if it might cause the animals to stop breathing.

  • 35:27

    LOIS BATESON: LSD is a pretty powerful psychedelic drug.And I had no idea how the dolphins would react to that.Humans didn't always react to it very well.So, you know.[STATIC SOUND]

  • 35:42

    NARRATOR: Despite these uncertaintiesabout the consequences, Lilly became obsessed with giving LSDto the dolphins.

  • 35:51

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: My first thought was not Peter.I just said, not Peter.What was I?24 or something.And it was his stuff.It was his animals.It was his pool.So I can't stop him.

  • 36:08

    NARRATOR: Lilly coerced Margaret into beingan assistant to his LSD experiment on the dolphins.

  • 36:15

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: And he pulled back,and he said, OK, not Peter.We pulled Peter out of the C pool where they were.So Pam and Sissy were in the C pool.And John did inject them with LSD.

  • 36:35

    JOHN LILLY (ON RECORDING): 10:06 PM, LSD200 microgram dose continued.[STATIC SOUND]

  • 36:50

    DR. ANDY WILLIAMSON: Different speciesreact in different ways.Playing with pharmaceuticals is tricky businessto say the least.

  • 37:00

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: We didn't know what was going to happen.And we certainly weren't prepared for anythingto happen.

  • 37:08

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING): 2 cc's of LSD.

  • 37:11

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: The dolphins were circling.And John occasionally glanced and said, oh, well, it'sonly been 10 minutes.And nothing was going on.And it's been, well, 20 minutes now.Nothing was going on-- nothing, nothing, nothing happenedperiod.

  • 37:34

    NARRATOR: Lilly was desperate to provoke a response.He came up with a bizarre and cruel idea,which shows how far he'd now comefrom genuine scientific research.Dolphins have extraordinarily sensitive hearing,using sound waves to sense their environment.

  • 37:54

    NARRATOR [continued]: Could he use that to trigger a reaction?

  • 37:57

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: And then John disappeared.And he went to the other side.And he picked up a jackhammer.A jackhammer makes a big thump going through the earth,and the cement, and the rock.[JACKHAMMER]And he just started jackhammering,which had everything shaking.

  • 38:20

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT [continued]: And still nothing happened.So that was the end of it.It just confirmed for me that John Lilly and Iwere very different.

  • 38:33

    NARRATOR: For Gregory Bateson, Lilly's useof LSD on the dolphins was the last draw.He packed up the family and left.

  • 38:44

    ERIC BATESON: St. Thomas was really an impossible placeto work.And I actually don't think he felt like he made much progressthat year in St. Thomas.

  • 38:52

    LOIS BATESON: We had learned as muchas we could from that particular setting in St. Thomas.And we just thought it was time to go.

  • 39:03

    NARRATOR: With the Batesons gone and funding turned off,by the Summer of 1966, Lilly was running up large debts.And in his LSD fueled world, his attention was drifting away.

  • 39:16

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: He lost focus on it.And the drug culture and the LSD took his interest away.It did fall apart at the end badly.

  • 39:30

    NARRATOR: The dolphin house would have to close.But decommissioning it would not be easy.

  • 39:39

    DR. ANDY WILLIAMSON: When you're dealing with live subjectswhether they are rats, or monkeys, or dolphins,what do you do with them after the experiments are over?There's nothing you could do about it.

  • 39:57

    NARRATOR: Lilly decided the dolphins would be transportedto the US mainland to live in another private lab heran outside Miami.It would be the end of Margaret and Peter's relationship.

  • 40:09

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: He wasn't mine.I couldn't keep him.We couldn't elope.We couldn't rush off into the sea and disappear and hide.You just can't do that.It's a very expensive business having a dolphin.If it had been a cat or a dog, I could have made a dealand kept him.

  • 40:31

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT [continued]: But how do you do that?

  • 40:35

    NARRATOR: After months of living almost continuously with Peter,the experiment was over.It was time for Margaret to say goodbye.

  • 40:44

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: I went back to the laband spent the evening and night with Peter.Being in the water with him and just that sweetness,it was very special and privileged,somebody who really wants to be there and sometimes who is just

  • 41:06

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT [continued]: comforted by the fact that you are there.That was misty-eyed, because at that valid point, I knew.And Peter didn't know.But I knew that was the end.

  • 41:33

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT [continued]: [DOLPHIN SOUNDS]

  • 41:37

    NARRATOR: In October 1966, the dolphinswere loaded into traveling tanks to be flown to Lilly's labon the mainland.

  • 41:46

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: Seeing that plane take off and circle,I didn't go with them.That was emotional.

  • 41:53

    NARRATOR: Margaret and Andy believed the animalshad gone to a good home.

  • 41:59

    DR. ANDY WILLIAMSON: I was told they were shipped some placewhere they would be very happy.

  • 42:04

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: I was told he arrived healthy that theyhad him checked by a vet.

  • 42:14

    NARRATOR: In reality, this is the buildingoutside Miami where the dolphins were [INAUDIBLE].[DOLPHIN SOUND]With little or no natural light and tiny, cramped tanks,this nightmarish room was a very different environmentto the dolphin house.Lilly's friend Ric O'Barry remembersonce visiting the labs.

  • 42:35

    RIC O'BARRY: It was awful, to be frank.It was awful.The first thing that hit you, puhh, was that smell.Dolphins urinate and defecate three to five timesthe quantity people will.So you can imagine the stench of having dolphins insideof that small room in a plastic, portable swimming

  • 43:00

    RIC O'BARRY [continued]: pool and the chlorine, copper sulfate, chlorine, heavilychlorine, and it was awful.It was awful.[DOLPHIN SOUNDS]

  • 43:19

    NARRATOR: Back at the dolphin house,Margaret was oblivious to the conditions the dolphins werenow being kept in.Weeks passed, [TELEPHONE RING] and then Margaretreceived a phone call about Peter.

  • 43:33

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: I got that phone call from John Lilly.John called me himself to tell me.And he said he committed suicide.

  • 43:47

    RIC O'BARRY: Suicide, and I use that word with some trepidationat the risk of sounding anthropomorphic,but it does describe what is indeedself-induced asphyxiation.They're not automatic air breathers like we are.

  • 44:07

    RIC O'BARRY [continued]: Every breath is a conscious effort.If life becomes too unbearable, the dolphins justtake a breath, and they sink to the bottom.They don't take that next breath.

  • 44:22

    NARRATOR: The shock of being moved from the dolphin househad been too much.Peter, it seems, had died of a broken heart.

  • 44:32

    DR. ANDY WILLIAMSON: You could think that Margaretcan rationalize that.But when she left, could Peter?Here is the love of his life, gone.

  • 45:02

    NARRATOR: 50 years of ocean and stormshave taken their toll on the dolphin house.

  • 45:08

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING): I must eat my fish.

  • 45:11

    NARRATOR: Today, this derelict shellis all that remains of the building, whichhoused the strangest experiment in the history of animalscience.

  • 45:20

    PROFESSOR GRAHAM BURNETT: In the ruins of the dolphin house,it's easy to see in that brokenness the patheticbrokenness of Lilly's own extraordinary ambition.

  • 45:32

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING): Boy.[DOLPHIN SOUNDS]Lovely.

  • 45:38

    PROFESSOR GRAHAM BURNETT: People who study languagearen't really persuaded that his claims about dolphin talkingare really informed by the best work in the study of languageitself.

  • 45:52

    NARRATOR: Instead, today's leading animal language expertsbelieve what happened at the dolphin house was in realitya sophisticated mimicry experiment.

  • 46:03

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING): Fish in bucket.

  • 46:10

    PROFESSOR GRAHAM BURNETT: Your parrot says, Pollywant a cracker, and you give that parrot a cracker,have you broken through to an alien species?

  • 46:20

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING): Fish in bucket.[DOLPHIN SOUNDS]Yoo hoo.

  • 46:27

    NARRATOR: Peter could copy Margaret's soundsand relate them to objects and people.What he couldn't do was use the words to communicatespontaneously back to her.

  • 46:38

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING):He listens to me so well.[DOLPHIN SOUND]Margaret.Margaret.Margaret.[DOLPHIN SOUND]Do it again.[DOLPHIN SOUND][INAUDIBLE]

  • 46:56

    NARRATOR: For Margaret, this was simplybecause the experiment was stopped to early.She believes Peter's progress was far moreadvanced than human infants would havebeen after the same coaching.And with more time, she feels shewould have taken his communicationto the next level.

  • 47:13

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: Six months.You have a six-month-old baby?They're doing that?No.You're talking to them all the time,sleeping with them, hugging them, cuddling them.They doing that?No.It's nothing.But people are impatient.Do more.Do more.

  • 47:36

    NARRATOR: The failure of the dolphin house experimentkilled off any serious scientific interest in teachinganimals a human language.Instead, over the following decades,scientists have focused on tryingto understand animal to animal communicationas Gregory Bateson and the astronomers had championed.

  • 47:58

    NARRATOR [continued]: As he got older, Lilly's appreciationof dolphin intelligence got him thinking about the animalsdifferently.

  • 48:06

    RIC O'BARRY: Up to that point, I think he was [Ric O'Barry -Campaign Director, the Dolphin Project] very involved in whatdolphins can do for me, John Lilly, the scientist.And something happened along the waywhere he understood they have just as much rights as we do.And let's start thinking about what we can do for them.

  • 48:24

    JEFF BRIDGES: John changed [Jeff Bridges -Friend of John Lilly] his thinking about the dolphins.And he felt uncomfortable about keeping them confined.And he ended up releasing his dolphins.

  • 48:39

    NARRATOR: And that's the first timethat happened in America or anywhere,the first permit ever issued to release dolphins.

  • 48:48

    JOHN LILLY: I had no right to confine them, to imprison them,to work on them.My only right would be to work with themin their natural habitat, in their natural state.

  • 49:05

    NARRATOR: In the mid-1980s, Lillybegan campaigning relentlessly against holding dolphinscaptive.This, together with the profile his work had given dolphins,helped transform the way they were viewed by the public.Congress had passed the US Marine Mammal Protection Act.And for organizations like Greenpeace,they became an iconic symbol of the wider conservation

  • 49:29

    NARRATOR [continued]: movement.[WHALE SOUNDS]

  • 49:31

    PROFESSOR GRAHAM BURNETT: That story of the rising campaignto afford new protections to the world's marine mammals,I would argue it's impossible to imagine that workwithout Lilly's legacy.

  • 49:45

    NARRATOR: John Lilly died in hospital in 2001after a short illness at the age of 86.Margaret Howe had stayed on in St. Thomasand married the photographer who had taken the pictures of herwith Peter.Remarkably, she and her husband continuedliving in the house for another 10 years,

  • 50:06

    NARRATOR [continued]: converting it into a family home and bringing up three girls.

  • 50:12

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: It was a good place.There was good feeling in that building all the time.

  • 50:18

    NARRATOR: But for Margaret, today the househas an even more powerful memory.That relationship of having to be together that sort ofturned into really enjoying being together,and wanting to be together, and missing when you weren't there.I'm a human.I'm in love with a human.I married a human.

  • 50:39

    NARRATOR [continued]: I had babies.I did have a very close encounterwith, I can't even say a dolphin again, with Peter, one dolphin.I was very lucky.[DOLPHIN SOUNDS]God, that's amazing.

  • 51:01

    NARRATOR: For the first time in 50 years,Margaret has been able to hear recordings of her with Peter.[DOLPHIN SOUNDS]Trying so hard, god.

  • 51:10

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.[DOLPHIN SOUNDS]Nice 5, Peter.

  • 51:18

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT: Nice 5, Peter.[MUSIC PLAYING]

  • 51:51

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT [continued]: [DOLPHIN SOUNDS]

  • 51:54

    MARGARET HOWE LOVATT (ON RECORDING):What is that all about, Peter?[SPLASH]

Abstract

Dr John C. Lilly's Dolphin House was a first-of-its-kind facility in animal research. Margaret Howe Lovatt was a volunteer researcher whose experiments attempted teach dolphins to speak, and early successes were cut short by a tragic ending.

Looks like you do not have access to this content.

The Girl Who Talked To Dolphins

Dr John C. Lilly's Dolphin House was a first-of-its-kind facility in animal research. Margaret Howe Lovatt was a volunteer researcher whose experiments attempted teach dolphins to speak, and early successes were cut short by a tragic ending.

Copy and paste the following HTML into your website