Share via Email Marine girl: In her early 20s, living on the Caribbean island of St Thomas, they took on a new significance. During Christmas , her brother-in-law mentioned a secret laboratory at the eastern end of the island where they were working with dolphins. She decided to pay the lab a visit early the following year. Despite her lack of scientific training, Lovatt turned out to be an intuitive observer of animal behaviour and Bateson told her she could come back whenever she wanted.
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. It was cleaned by the tide through openings at each end. Here, Lilly hoped to commune with the creatures, nurturing their ability to make human-like sounds through their blow holes. Lilly had been interested in connecting with cetaceans since coming face to face with a beached pilot whale on the coast near his home in Massachusetts in The young medic couldn't quite believe the size of the animal's brain — and began to imagine just how intelligent the creature must have been, explains Graham Burnett, professor of the history of science at Princeton and author of The Sounding of the Whale.
And in this period, researchers were like: Lilly Estate At every opportunity in the years that followed, John Lilly and his first wife, Mary, would charter sailboats and cruise the Caribbean, looking for other big-brained marine mammals to observe.
It was on just such a trip in the late s that the Lillys came across Marine Studios in Miami — the first place to keep the bottlenose dolphin in captivity.
Up until this time, fishermen on America's east coast, who were in direct competition with dolphins for fish, had considered the animals vermin. But here, in the tanks of Marine Studios, the dolphins' playful nature was endearingly on show and their ability to learn tricks quickly made it hard to dislike them. Here, for the first time, Lilly had the chance to study the brains of live dolphins, mapping their cerebral cortex using fine probes, which he'd first developed for his work on the brains of rhesus monkeys.
Unable to sedate dolphins, as they stop breathing under anaesthetic, the brain-mapping work wasn't easy for either animals or scientists, and the research didn't always end well for the marine mammals. But on one occasion in , the research would take a different course which would change his and Mary's lives for ever. Now aged 97, Mary still remembers the day very clearly.
I went down to where they were operating and told them that this was going on and they were quite startled. If so, here were exciting new opportunities for interspecies communication. Lilly published his theory in a book in called Man and Dolphin. The idea of talking dolphins, eager to tell us something, captured the public's imagination and the book became a bestseller. Lilly's theory had special significance for another group of scientists — astronomers.
Through her naturally empathetic nature she quickly connected with the three animals and, eager to embrace John Lilly's vision for building an interspecies communication bridge, she threw herself into his work, spending as much time as possible with the dolphins and carrying out a programme of daily lessons to encourage them to make human-like sounds.
While the lab's director, Gregory Bateson, concentrated on animal-to-animal communication, Lovatt was left alone to pursue Lilly's dream to teach the dolphins to speak English. But even at a state-of-the-art facility like the Dolphin House, barriers remained.
It just seemed so simple. Why let the water get in the way? I want to live here. She began completely waterproofing the upper floors of the lab, so that she could actually flood the indoor rooms and an outdoor balcony with a couple of feet of water. This would allow a dolphin to live comfortably in the building with her for three months. Lovatt selected the young male dolphin called Peter for her live-in experiment. Lovatt would attempt to live in isolation with him six days a week, sleeping on a makeshift bed on the elevator platform in the middle of the room and doing her paperwork on a desk suspended from the ceiling and hanging over the water.
On the seventh day Peter would return to the sea pool downstairs to spend time with the two female dolphins at the lab — Pamela and Sissy.
Lying in bed, surrounded by water that first night and listening to the pumps gurgling away, she remembers questioning what she was doing. There's moonlight reflecting on the water, this fin and this bright eye looking at you and I thought: What I was doing there was trying to find out what Peter was doing there and what we could do together. That was the whole point and nobody had done that. I worked on the 'M' sound and he eventually rolled over to bubble it through the water.
That 'M', he worked on so hard. It was just being together which taught her the most about what made Peter tick. If I was sitting here and my legs were in the water, he would come up and look at the back of my knee for a long time. He wanted to know how that thing worked and I was so charmed by it. That was really the prime experiment to be done, but Lilly never seemed able to do it.
But there was something getting in the way of the lessons. And at first I would put him downstairs with the girls," she says. But transporting Peter downstairs proved so disruptive to the lessons that, faced with his frequent arousals, it just seemed easier for Lovatt to relieve his urges herself manually. It would just become part of what was going on, like an itch — just get rid of it, scratch it and move on. And that's how it seemed to work out.
People could observe it. 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. And I went to one and looked and I found this story with my name and Peter, and a drawing. Hustler magazine's take on the story in the late s. Lilly Estate Lovatt bought up all the copies she could find, but the story was out there and continues to circulate to this day on the web.
But that was not the point of it, nor the result of it. So I just ignore it. Lilly had been researching the mind-altering powers of the drug LSD since the early s. The wife of Ivan Tors, the producer of the dolphin movie Flipper, had first introduced him to it at a party in Hollywood. I saw John go from a scientist with a white coat to a full blown hippy," he remembers. As part of this research, the drug was sometimes injected into animals and Lilly had been using it on his dolphins since , curious about the effect it would have on them.
Despite his various attempts to get the dolphins to respond to the drug, it didn't seem to have any effect on them, remembers Lovatt. Playing with pharmaceuticals is a tricky business to say the least. But it was his lab, and they were his animals, she recalls. While Lilly's experimentation with the drug continued, Lovatt persevered with Peter's vocalisation lessons and grew steadily closer to him.
Lilly Estate Lilly's cavalier attitude to the dolphins' welfare would eventually be his downfall, driving away the lab's director, Gregory Bateson, and eventually causing the funding to be cut.
Just as Lovatt and Peter's six-month live-in experiment was concluding, it was announced that the lab would be closed. Without funding, the fate of the dolphins was in question. But not a dolphin. It was a far cry from the relative freedom and comfortable surroundings of Dolphin House. At the Miami lab, held captive in smaller tanks with little or no sunlight, Peter quickly deteriorated, and after a few weeks Lovatt received news.
He said Peter had committed suicide. If life becomes too unbearable, the dolphins just take a breath and they sink to the bottom. They don't take the next breath. Here's the love of his life gone. Nobody was going to bother Peter, he wasn't going to hurt, he wasn't going to be unhappy, he was just gone.
And that was OK. Odd, but that's how it was. No one else ever tried to teach dolphins to speak English again. Instead, research has shifted to better understanding other species' own languages. At the Seti Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute , founded by Frank Drake to continue his work on life beyond Earth, Drake's colleague Laurance Doyle has attempted to quantify the complexity of animal language here on our home planet.
I think Lilly's big insight was how intelligent dolphins really are. Together they moved back into Dolphin House, eventually converting it into a family home where they brought up three daughters. And in turn the idea of my living with a dolphin inspired others.