It is believed that the dolphin suffered a broken heart because "the love of his life" had gone.
Inside a complex that was specially designed just for the two of them, a woman and a dolphin formed an unbreakable bond as they lived together and did almost everything together as part of an experiment. Things grew complicated when the dolphin began having sexual urges for the woman, who decided to "scratch" it like an "itch" and move on.
The six-year-old bottlenose dolphin was living with 23-year-old research assistant, Margaret Howe Lovatt, as part of a research. And at the time, it was clear to the people around that the dolphin named Peter had developed strong feelings for Margaret.
"Dolphins get sexual urges," said vet Andy Williamson, as quoted by The Guardian."I’m sure Peter had plenty of thoughts along those lines."
Both Margaret and Peter would spend nearly the entire day together; they would watch TV together and would even sleep next to each other in what was called The Dolphin House. Margaret was trying to teach Peter how to speak English, and there were times when she saw Peter getting turned on while she was around.
"Peter liked to be with me," explained Margaret. "He would rub himself on my knee, or my foot, or my hand. And at first I would put him downstairs with the girls."
Over time, Peter grew uninterested in the two other female dolphins. In addition to this, it was becoming disruptive to their English lessons to keep shifting Peter every time he got aroused. So Margaret began manually relieving his urges, which got more and more frequent with time.
"I allowed that," she said. "I wasn’t uncomfortable with it, as long as it wasn’t rough. 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."
Even though it was sexual for Peter, it was not so for Margaret. And she considered it something she respectfully carried out.
"Peter was right there and he knew that I was right there," Margaret continued. "It wasn’t sexual on my part. Sensuous perhaps. It seemed to me that it made the bond closer. Not because of the sexual activity, but because of the lack of having to keep breaking. And that’s really all it was. I was there to get to know Peter. That was part of Peter."
After a few weeks, funds for the experiment ran out, which meant Margaret and Peter could no longer be together.
"I couldn’t keep Peter," Margaret said. "If he’d been a cat or a dog, then maybe. But not a dolphin."
They had no choice but to part ways after the NASA-funded experiment in the 1960s came to an end. This led to Peter being shipped off to a smaller lab. However, the dolphin could not bear being away from Margaret and even experts say that he suffered a broken heart.
"Margaret could rationalise it, but when she left, could Peter? Here’s the love of his life gone," said vet, Williamson.
It is believed that Peter died by suicide because he was unable to stay away from Margaret, according to The Sun.
"Dolphins are not automatic air-breathers like we are. Every breath is a conscious effort," explained Ric O’Barry, from animal rights organization, The Dolphin Project. "If life becomes too unbearable, the dolphins just take a breath and they sink to the bottom. They don’t take the next breath."
O’Barry believes that Peter's death was a "suicide" because he refused to breathe and sank to the bottom of his tank.
Many decades later, when Margaret looked back at her relationship with Peter, she said in the documentary, The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins, as quoted by The Guardian: "That relationship of having to be together sort of turned into really enjoying being together, and wanting to be together, and missing him when he wasn’t there. I did have a very close encounter with—I can’t even say a dolphin again—with Peter."
Cover image source: BBC/YouTube