An Infamous NASA Experiment Involved A Horny Dolphin And LSD

It may be the weirdest science experiment of all time. It has it all -- LSD, alien communication, people fucking dolphins. It was all part of a '60s NASA project that would live in infamy due to the way it was covered in a porn magazine. "What's this you say about fucking dolphins?" is probably your immediate reaction, and hey, that's everybody else's reaction too. That's part of the tragedy of the thing. There was so much more to the story, and all of it is amazing.

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All Good Experiments Start With An Urge To Talk To Sea Creatures (And Aliens)

Dr. John Lilly was a neuroscientist who had been interested in the idea of making real connections with animals -- and by that, I mean have actual conversations with them. After studying dolphins for some time, Lilly came to the conclusion that they weren't merely performing tricks for their human captors. He believed they were actively trying to communicate. Clearly hoping to turn himself into an actual Aquaman, Lilly noted that dolphins would, with training, eventually begin to mimic his voice. That discovery would put him down a path that could have saved the world a lot more money, dolphin lives, and LSD, had someone simply bought the dude a parrot and a tape recorder.

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Lilly published a bestselling book on his theory, Man And Dolphin -- a name that reminds you that sometimes brilliant scientific minds are arguably the least creative motherfuckers around. Still, the book captured the imagination of a group of researchers at NASA who were trying to communicate with an elusive group of their own: aliens. In retrospect, it'd have been more surprising if things hadn't gotten super weird.

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Related: The 10 Craziest Scientific Experiments Ever Conducted

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Along Comes A Dolphin Whisperer

You know how some people seem to have a way with animals? Not even in a creepy way, they just seem like they could step outside and stick out a pinky, and a condor would touch down on it? Margaret Howe Lovatt was that kind of beast master. Though not expertly trained or educated, Lovatt was preternaturally good with animals, and fascinated by them.

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Much like Lilly, Lovatt thought there was more going on that humans weren't necessarily in tune with, and that if we tried hard enough, we could get to the point where watching TV alone on your couch with your cat could mean Whiskers would become the ultimate Jeopardy partner. (Honestly, I just love the image of my cat responding to Trebek with the same snarky unearned confidence I do when I get one of 50 questions right.)

It's this intuition that led Lovatt to Lilly's secret lab on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas in 1963. The team recognized that her passion and instincts greatly outweighed any lack of bona fides, and they quickly threw her into the project. While most of the team was focused on ways to study dolphin-to-dolphin communications, Lilly put Lovatt in charge of his true passion project: teaching dolphins English.

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To truly connect with these creatures, Lovatt decided she needed to be at the lab around the clock, basically moving in with one of them. You're likely now wondering if we're about to get to the dolphin sex, and yes, it's coming. Kind of.

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Related: 6 Elaborate Science Experiments Done Just For The Hell Of It

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Hope They Had Renter's Insurance

In order for Lilly and Lovatt to go all-in with their talking dolphin study, they'd need the perfect environment. They began waterproofing the facility so that they could flood the lower levels. They eventually turned the space into a hybrid between a place where a human could walk around and do their standard habitat things, like breathing air and shitting in toilets, and a space where dolphins could do their standard things, like swallowing water for air (I am NOT a scientist, so don't fact-check this) and just taking shits exactly where they were at any given time. How goddamn cool is that? There's nothing I love more than seeing government dollars being thrown at wild-ass projects like this instead of drones that can accidentally blow up civilians with greater efficiency.

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Anyway, Lovatt moved in and chose her dolphin. With two female dolphins having already been been exposed to human researchers, she rented the place out to the young male with a fresh mind, Peter. Lovatt and Peter would spend essentially every waking hour together inside the Dolphin House, where Lovatt was now both working and sleeping. Lovatt quickly made progress. Soon, she and Peter were breaking down barriers of communication, and it seemed like her dolphin roommate was really starting to come out of his shell.

Unfortunately, Lovatt and Lilly missed a few things on Peter's rental application for the Dolphin House, which would turn out to be a tad problematic. Namely, in the section where you usually list any outstanding credit obligations, Peter dolphin-wrote: I know us dolphins already have a rep for being horny, but Jesus Christ, I'm just about the horniest dolphin there is. Hope it's still cool if I move in. I have a crock pot.

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Related: The 6 Most Baffling Science Experiments Ever Funded

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And That's How Some Dolphin Scientists Made It Into Hustler

Peter was entering the most sexually charged up phase of his adolescence, and staring at Lovatt's legs dangling beneath the surface became his DolphHub. Of his rising obsession, Lovatt said, "He 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."

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That's one way to put it. Peter began taking it a step further, rubbing himself incessantly on whatever part of Lovatt he could get access to. Being a true warrior of science, Lovatt was unfazed. In fact, rather than lose time in her studies by sending Peter back down to be with his two female companions when his urges became too strong, she simply took matters into her own hands. That's right folks, she started crankin' the dolphin for science.

Without diving too deep into exactly how she took care of Peter, let's establish that Lovatt got the job done in a way that was, at least according to her, entirely nonsexual. Once Peter finished, he was able to calm down a little, and Lovatt would be able to get right back to their studies and hardly skip a beat. Though none of this was anything more than part of the job for Lovatt, Hustler saw it a different way. They ran a story on the operation that largely focused on -- and exaggerated -- Lovatt's relationship with Peter. Here's the image and title they went with:

An Infamous NASA Experiment Involved A Horny Dolphin And LSD

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The seriousness of the project took a hit, because to the general public, it was starting to look a lot like their taxes were going the aquatic world's version of the kind of place where Robert Kraft does his best thinking. Though this was far from the truth, and serious work was making serious progress at the Dolphin House, this was the beginning of the end of the project. But first ...

Related: 7 Studies That Only Prove That Scientists Are Perverts

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They Gave The Dolphins LSD

LSD was becoming something of an obsession for many scientific fields at this time, and Dr. Lilly was leading the charge. While today great strides are being made in the use of psychedelics for mental health treatment (that is, when researchers are cleared to try it), this was a bit more of a Wild West situation. Lilly was undergoing something of a personal change from a stuffy white lab coat scientist to a free-spirited acquaintance of Jeff Bridges (really) hippie. And he brought this attitude into his studies.

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Lilly began dosing the two female dolphins with LSD, in an effort to further their progress and prompt a major shift in their research. Though he tried to do the same to Peter, Lovatt wouldn't allow it. Apparently the drug had no effect on the dolphins, which is a bit of an absurd statement, because there seems to be no way to know that for sure. These are people who have been studying these dolphins for years and haven't even gotten them to say "Hello," for Christ's sake. You think they can tell for sure that old Sydney and Diane aren't on an amazing dolphin trip beyond the outer reaches of the Multiverse? Hell no.

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Whatever the case, Lilly was becoming disconnected from his work with the dolphins. Now more excited by the prospects of LSD and the human brain, he wasn't giving the project the attention it deserved. Though Lovatt was making more progress than ever with Peter, the entire operation eventually lost funding and was shut down. The dolphins were moved into another of Lilly's labs, apparently housed within an empty bank building in Miami. Let's take a second to reflect on how good you must have it as a scientist to be able to lose one lab, but then say, "Ah, fuck it. There's always my backup lab in the basement of the old Bank of America. Just throw 'em over there." Unfortunately, that's exactly what they did. Nobody felt it harder than Peter.

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Related: The 7 Most Hilariously Creepy Science Experiments Ever

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Did You Know Dolphins Can Commit Suicide?

Soon after the move, Peter killed himself. Seriously. Presumably grief-stricken over his abrupt separation from Lovatt and those sweet, sweet knees, he drowned himself, which is apparently a thing that dolphins do.

For his part, Lilly continued to do cool weirdo science stuff, and even got back into trying more out-there experiments with dolphins, like telepathy. These probably also didn't work, but who knows? Maybe dolphins are just really good at keeping a secret, and are using these skills like the sports almanac in Back To The Future to bet on Super Bowls and shit.

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As for Lovatt, though she could no longer work on the project, she remained in the islands, and even moved into the Dolphin House with her husband (whom she met on the project) and proceeded to convert it back into a regular pad. There she raised her family and seemingly moved on to a fulfilling life that was only enriched by her time spent with Lilly and Peter.

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Today the whole thing serves as an unintentional experiment in how information persists and spreads among humans. If you google "Margaret Howe Lovatt," six of the first eight results mention dolphin sex in the title. You can live a long and productive life, but jerk off a dolphin a few times, and more than half a century later, that's all anybody wants to talk about.

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