Peter the Dolphin fell in love with a human woman – but when the two parted ways, he was so heartbroken that he took his own life.
A six-year-old bottlenose dolphin had a romance with 23-year-old research assistant Margaret Howe during a wild ten weeks in the 1960s.
But when circumstances separated them, Peter was utterly devastated.
He refused to breathe, drowned at the bottom of his tank, and died in a case that was widely claimed as a “suicide”.
Margaret and Peter first met in a bizarre NASA-funded experiment designed to teach dolphins to understand and potentially imitate human speech.
The purpose of the test was stranger still – with the long-time goal being to find out how humans could talk to aliens.
And perhaps even Oder was a huge undertaking to build “The Dolphin House” – a huge complex filled with water where Margaret and Peter would live together for ten weeks.
Margaret spent all her time with Peter in seawater 22 inches deep—except when she could climb a dry bed or desk that hung from the ceiling hidden behind the shower curtain.
The couple had to live, sleep, wash, eat and play together as they attempted to teach dolphins – one of the most intelligent animals on the planet – how to speak through their blowholes.
Dr. John C. Lilly of the Dolphin Point Laboratory on St. Thomas Island in the Caribbean oversaw the experiment – and he predicted that dolphins may be able to imitate human speech “within a decade or two”.
However, things between the dolphin and its human handler turned out to be far more complicated than anyone could have predicted.
His own vet described Peter as being “crazy in love” with Margaret.
Although the test was unsuccessful in getting the dolphins to learn English, it provided insight into the powerful emotions held by the animals.
Margaret noticed by the fourth week of the experiment that Peter was beginning to become sexually aroused around her and would be flirtatious – munching on her and rubbing her feet.
And as Peter’s urge became more and more longing, the young researcher decided to start pleasing the dolphin to concentrate.
If life gets too unbearable, dolphins just take a breath and they sink to the bottom
She denies that it was sexual to her – but admits it was to her – and instead describes the experience as “erotic.”
Margaret, however, admitted that she formed a deep emotional bond with Peter.
“This relationship of being together is really enjoying being together, and wanting to be together, and missing him when he wasn’t there,” he said in a BBC documentary in 2014.
“It was easy to incorporate and let it be. It was so precious, it was so gentle.
“Peter knew I was right there, Peter was right there… again it was sexual on his part, it wasn’t sexual to me – maybe erotic.
“It’ll just become part of what was going on like the itch, just get rid of it, scratch it and we’ll get to work and move on.”
Peter, however, was completely smitten with Margaret – and would be jealous if she talked to other humans and also lost interest in the two other female dolphins.
He slept right next to her suspended bed, both watching TV, and he also began to make some human sounds, most notably the word “ball”.
However, as their bond deepened and they established a practical connection between humans and dolphins – the funding of the experiment ran out and the Dolphin House had to be closed.
Peter was sent away from Margaret – being transported 1,000 miles away to Dr. Lilly’s second – much smaller – laboratory in Florida.
Within weeks the heartbroken dolphin had died in an apparent act of suicide as she was kept in cramped conditions without her “lover”.
“I got that call from John Lilly. John called me himself to tell me. He said Peter had committed suicide,” she said Guardian.
Lab vet Andy Williamson also gave the cause of his death to a broken heart as he was turned away from Margaret.
Margaret could have rationalized it, but when she left, so did Peter? here went the love of his life
She said: “Margaret could have rationalized it, but when she’s gone, so will Peter? Here’s the love of her life.”
Rick O’Barry of the animal rights organization The Dolphin Project also called the description of Peter’s death a “suicide”.
He said: “Dolphins are not automatic air-breathers like us. Every breath is a conscious effort.
“If life gets too unbearable, the dolphins just take a breath and they sink to the bottom.
“They don’t take the next breath.”
Scientists are divided over whether dolphins have the psychic ability to participate in “suicide” in the human sense of the word.
However, distressed animals have been known to engage in self-destructive behavior that can prove fatal – such as the case of Hugo the whale, who turned his head into his tank so many times that he suffered a brain aneurysm.
Lori Marino, a behavioral neuroscientist, dolphin expert and founder of The Kimella Center for Animal Advocacy, published a paper that argues as much.
She writes that their brains have “the sophisticated capacity for emotion and the kinds of thinking processes that would be involved in complex motivational states, such as those with suicidal thoughts”.
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