During the swinging 60s, animal researcher Margaret Howe Lovatt was part of a Nasa-funded experiment on the US Virgin Islands to teach the intelligent sea creatures how to speak English.
In 1963 she helped turn a house into a domestic dolphinarium by flooding it with knee-deep water, where researchers could study the animals from their home.
It was there she met Peter, an adolescent dolphin she described as ‘sexually coming of age‘. As the two bonded, their relationship soon progressed to a more physical level.
Margaret said: “Peter liked to be… with me. He would rub himself on my knee, my foot or my hand and I allowed that. I wasn’t uncomfortable – as long as it wasn’t too rough. In the beginning I would put him on the elevator and say you go play with the girls for a day.”
“It was just easier to incorporate that and let it happen, it was very precious and very gentle, Peter was right there, he knew that I was right there.”
Margaret claims this became a regular part of her studies, as she tried to teach Peter to speak English. She added: “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, just get rid of that we’ll scratch and we would be done and move on. I was there to get to know Peter, that was part of Peter.”
But what started with Sixties idealism would spiral into the darkness of the decade. The experiment would end in tragedy, and for years after there would be rumours of the dolphins suffering drug abuse with LSD tests and scandal over the nature of Margaret’s relationship with Peter.
Margaret said: “I’ve had a good bunch of letters from people asking if they could interview me, but I’ve not done any of it.”
A new BBC documentary The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins will be screened at the Sheffield Documentary Festival on Wednesday, June 11, before making its way to BBC4 on Tuesday, June 17.