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Remember the 1960s Dolphin Experiment That Got Uncomfortably Sexual?

Life was different in the '60s, man. For proof, look no further than this freakish dolphin experiment that aimed to teach dolphins to speak English.


Life was different in the '60s, man. For proof, look no further than "The Girl Who Talked With Dolphins," a 2014 documentary by Christopher Riley about a '60s dolphin experiment trying to teach dolphins to speak English.

 

It's got all the hallmarks and highlights of a story from the '60s:

 

1. NASA 

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The experiment was funded by America's space program, the logic being that if you could teach dolphins English, you would be prepared to teach aliens English.

 

2. Frank Drake + Carl Sagan 

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The two famous astronomers kept tabs on the research and helped it get funded by NASA.

 

3. Free Love 

Basically, the experiment involved teaching Peter, a dolphin, to speak by having him and Margaret Lovett, a human, spend all of their time together. Peter would get distracted from the lessons by his "sexual urges," so Margaret just, well, took care of them for him.

 

4. Hustler 

The magazine got wind of the dolphin-human sexual relation, and blew the story up big time.

 

5. Drugs

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John Lilly, the scientist in charge of the experiment, got introduced to LSD by the wife of the man who produced "Flipper." Things started to go even further off the rails.

 

6. Jeff Bridges 

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Knew Lilly and could comment on his LSD use, because of course he could.

 

 

7. Unethical research decisions 

Desperate for results, Lilly decided to try injecting the dolphins with LSD just to see what would happen. (Answer: nothing. Also worth noting: Lovett would not allow him to give Peter LSD.)

After not making any progress, the experiment and dolphin house were shut down.

Phew, talk about time travel. And that didn't even cover maybe the most '60s thing about it. One phrase Lovett was trying to teach Peter? "Nice vibe, Peter. Nice vibe."

The whole documentary is worth watching, based on a first-hand account from Lovett about the experiment and the experience.

 

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Illustration by Fabio Manucci

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