The Naturalist Who Had A Relationship With A Dolphin

Romantic relationships are sometimes frowned upon in the workplace, as Harvard Business Review explains. When we hear of one happening we assume it's between two human beings, but as The Guardian writes, in one instance at least, that isn't always the case. The romantic relationship referred to in The Guardian — and the subject of the 2014 documentary "The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins" directed by Christopher Riley (via IMDb) — happened in the 1960s between a volunteer researcher and a dolphin. The human-animal pair would eventually cohabitate, and the bond that they shared became physical.

The NASA science experiment was conducted to learn more about the dolphin brain, to find out what might happen if humans and dolphins lived together, and if humans and dolphins can communicate — information they hoped might later be used to speak with extraterrestrial life. One person involved in the study was named ​​Margaret Howe Lovatt, who was in her early 20s at the time. An untrained naturalist, Lovatt volunteered for the project conducted on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, where she lived. Early on, Lovatt simply observed the three dolphins involved: two females, Pamela and Sissy, and a young male dolphin named Peter. Turns out, Peter had his eye on Lovatt too. She told The Guardian Peter "was very, very interested in my anatomy. 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."

Peter had reached sexual maturity

Based on The Atlantic's reporting, Peter had reached sexual maturity around that same time and had frequent sexual urges, which distracted him as a test subject. At first, scientists moved Peter to be near other female dolphins, but that proved to be too inconvenient and disruptive. Peter was also not shy about turning to Lovatt when the mood struck him. At those moments, he pushed himself against Lovatt, who later recalled (via The Atlantic) "I wasn't uncomfortable — as long as it wasn't too rough. It was just easier to incorporate that and let it happen, it was very precious and very gentle."

Shortly thereafter, Lovatt began to take the lead. Instances of zoophilia — or sexual attraction between human and animal are not unheard of, but sexual contact between humans and animals is banned in many places, as Britannica notes. That list includes 31 U.S. states, as The Guardian elsewhere explains. Reportedly, within zoophilia exists delphinophilia, or sexual attraction to dolphins, as The Atlantic reports. Also noted by The Atlantic, one legend says that the pink river dolphins in Brazil turn into young men at night that then get blamed for sex crimes for which human men are responsible. 

Back in St. Thomas, the relationship between Lovatt and Peter developed to the point she moved into his facility to be closer to him, but purportedly for the sake of the study. Lovatt created a space for herself to live 24 hours a day near Peter's pool, at which time the sexual relationship continued. Lovatt later described it as less sexual on her part but sensual (via The Guardian).

An itch that needed scratching

Lovatt described the intimacy between herself and the dolphin, saying, "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." 

Lovatt's interest remained in the possibility of teaching Peter to speak, but she admits she and Peter had grown close. Per The Guardian, Lovatt said the physical contact " ... made the bond closer." 

Over time, the psychedelic drug LSD — the subject of much scientific inquiry, according to NPR — became involved and some of the dolphins were injected, though The Guardian reported that Lovatt asked that Peter not be given the drug and the scientist acquiesced her request. Around that same time, Lovatt's interest waned, and shortly thereafter the St. Thomas study fell apart. 

At the conclusion, Lovatt could no longer maintain her relationship with Peter, and the dolphin was transported to a facility in Miami and kept in smaller tanks with very little natural light. While there, two sources confirmed Peter seemed to die by suicide. He stopped breathing by choice — or so it appeared — and sank to his death. It was as if, in the dolphin's view, Lovatt was the love of his life and they could no longer be together (per The Guardian).