In the 1960s, NASA was funding a research trying to teach dolphins English. But, after a few years, the project had to be cancelled in what was later described by the media as “the worst experiment in the world”.
Here’s the story of the insanely weird research that went tragically wrong.
In late 1960s, NASA decided to fund a dolphin communication project. The aim was to test whether or not dolphins could learn English. In the experiment, there were three dolphins: Peter, Pamela and Sissy. The youngest one, Peter, was selected by instructor, Margaret Lovatt to be her live-in experiment. (the article continues after the ad)
The two started spending a lot of time together and, in just a few months, Peter actually learned a few words. But there was a problem. Peter fell in love with his teacher and started having “sexual urges”. As Lovatt later explained, Peter… liked to be with her:
“He would rub himself on my knee, or my foot, or my hand. And at first I would put him downstairs with the girls,” she says.
But because moving Peter downstairs was proven to be very disruptive to the lessons, Lovatt decided to change her method: she would just relieve Peter’s urges herself manually!
“I allowed that,” she says. “I wasn’t uncomfortable with it, as long as it wasn’t rough. 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. It wasn’t private. People could observe it.”
“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.”
But the news were quickly spread. In the early 1970s, Hustle magazine issued a story about Lovatt’s sexual encounters with Peter in a scandal that overshadowed the whole experiment:
Photo: Lilly Estate
In the months to come, another incident came to interrupt the study: the researchers started exploring the mind-altering powers of the drug LSD on dolphins. Lovatt refused to participate in this kind of research and the project was eventually cancelled.
Not being able to cope with the separation, Peter fell into depression and died.