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Margaret Howe Lovatt

Margaret Howe Lovatt (born Margaret C. Howe, in 1942) is a volunteer naturalist from Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. In 1960s, she took part in a NASA-funded research project in which she attempted to teach a dolphin named Peter to understand and mimic human speech.


The DolphinariumEdit

In 1961 John C. Lilly, a neuro-scientist of the California Institute of Technology, was building a research laboratory with funding from NASA and the United States Navy with the goal of speaking to extraterrestrial life forms. In order to simulate his research in a model he built a "Dolphinarium", a dolphin-house flooded with water, on Saint Thomas. There Lilly accommodated three dolphins, two females named Sissy and Pamela and one younger male bottle nose dolphin named Peter. All of them were taken from the Marine Studios and had been co-starring in the television show Flipper. In 1964 the "Dolphinarium" was fully functional and as Lilly was traveling a lot he assigned Howe Lovatt the communication training with the dolphins.

The experimentEdit

The goal of the "Dolphinarium" experiment was to teach dolphins human language. Over a period of two years, Lilly and Howe Lovatt, both with very different approaches, tried to prove that human language could be mimicked by dolphins. During the experiment Howe Lovatt reasoned that the lessons could be more successful if she would spend day and night with her dolphins. So 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. As Howe Lovatt and the pubescent male dolphin Peter were spending all their time together in the isolated "Dolphinarium", in week five Peter started to exhibit signs of sexual attraction toward Howe Lovatt. As Peter's frequent arousal and courtship behavior were proving too disruptive to Howe Lovatt's training, she chose to relieve his urges herself manually.

Other problems arose surrounding the project. In addition to his animal communication research, Lilly had been funded to research the effects of the drug LSD since the early 1960s. He had been testing the effects of the drug on his subject dolphins, with no results.

Since neither his communication experiments nor his LSD research was proving fruitful, Lilly's Dolphinarium eventually lost all funding.

Howe Lovatt's experiments, and her unusual relationship with Peter the dolphin, were documented in Christopher Riley's documentary The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins.

Private lifeEdit

Margaret Howe Lovatt stayed on the island, marrying the photographer who'd captured pictures of the experiment. Together they moved back into Dolphin House, eventually converting it into a family home where they brought up three daughters.


Further readingEdit