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Home Is Where Your Dolphin Is

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(Courtesy of the John C. Lilly Estate)

In the 1960's, Margaret Howe had a very unusual roommate: a bottlenose dolphin named Peter. They lived and worked in a small, damp apartment on the island of St. Thomas. In her first-ever radio interview, Margaret tells the story of their time together. Historian D. Graham Burnett helps us understand what it all means (and why so many of our friends have dolphin tattoos).

Comments [20]

Lord Kirk from United Kingdom

This radio clip did not do Barbara justice, if you want to see the whole story, I would recommend you look out for a BBC documentary called, The Girl who talked to Dolphins. It has a happy ending, in which Lilly found himself releasing all of his dolphins back into the wild. Because he understood what he was doing was not best for his own studies.

It is a shame that Peter felt lost without Barbara. This does show us one other thing that all humans should understand. All animals have feelings and should be respected. This planet is for all life, not just our own. It is about time we started working with the planet instead of against it, like we are now...

Feb. 05 2017 09:25 PM

While I did find this story many levels of disturbing, it was interesting to hear this peice of history , that will hopefully never be repeated. I am intrigued by Margarets side of the story, of living with a dolphin in a house full of water! However I think everyone would agree that Lilly was an idiot, influenced by the pop culture of the time ( drugs) leading him to cruelly mistreat these beautiful creatures. I think we learn from history, which is why although like i said i did find this story disturbing, it is also beneficial for people to learn about. I agree that the ending of the podcast should have explained the ending to the story better!

Apr. 06 2016 11:09 AM
lisa lemon from Misosuri

This was somehow one of the saddest things I've ever heard.

Oct. 25 2015 08:39 PM
Gina from Washington, D.C.

I recently stumbled upon this episode. Am I the only one that found this deeply disturbing on so many levels? What outcome was Dr. Lilly expecting to find on his so called research? Keeping the dolphin confined to a tank with only humans and no other contact with species of his own kind, in my opinion, is animal cruelty. Let alone giving the poor dolphin LSD! And I won't even get into how Ms. Howe addressed the "sexual behavior" of the dolphin. Her response is far from normal human behavior. She had no science or biology background to apply to the "study". Living with a dolphin is blurring the lines. I'm disappointed that Radio Lab did not disclose the (unfortunate) outcome of this dolphins fate.

Sep. 02 2015 09:27 PM
Whoa Dude from TX

Dolphin handjobs. Now I've heard everything.

Nov. 05 2014 11:35 PM
Liz from Chicago

I really wish the speaker wouldn't interrupt Margaret's explanation of things, especially towards the end. She didn't even let the listener hear what Margaret herself had to say before cutting her off immediately with her own interpretation of Margaret's story.

Nov. 03 2014 03:21 PM
Lorna Gusner from Oregon

I looked up what happened to Peter afterward—it was terrible. This is one of those days when I hate humankind with all my heart.

Sep. 21 2014 03:31 PM

Everyone should check out this podcast with the humorous side of the story...

Sep. 17 2014 11:36 AM
Tad from Colorado

I can't believe you left out what happened to Peter. I had to look it up. Very unprofessional.

Sep. 13 2014 09:43 PM

Years ago, I read a novel that must have been based on this experience. At the time, I thought it was quite enjoyable but pretty bizarre fiction...a woman living with a dolphin and all. I never forgot the story but no longer have the book and I wonder if anyone can confirm the connection or knows anything about it. The story is even more remarkable now that I know it's true!

Sep. 10 2014 04:30 PM

"These days"? Hell, I was into dolphins / dolphin communication (and John Lilly) in the 90's -

People have been enamored with dolphins ever since the 60's. And probably before.

Sep. 05 2014 06:49 AM
Frank Glover from Rochester, NY USA

See also John Lilly's book 'The Mind of the Dolphin' or 'Lilly on Dolphins.'

Sep. 01 2014 10:25 AM

from the moment i heard Peter was an adolescent male dolphin, i knew the whole sex drive thing would be an issue- almost is a setup, if one thinks about it. i don't see that Ms Howe did anything unexpected with Peter. i don't see the salacious scandal in it, but maybe my brain works differently.

what is strange to me is the whole idea of having them live in that situation for such an extended time for the sole purpose of "teaching" Peter English. a ginormous wasted opportunity to see what sort of communication might have evolved under the circumstances. not to mention the information from their living together in terms of social behaviour and just general data from a non-trainer perspective: margaret was open and observant, in turn, Peter was a curious young dolphin exploring this strange creature who was the primary stimulus.

Sep. 01 2014 03:41 AM
Jean Reece from Rochester, NY

What a bizarre story. Leg-humping, LSD-taking, human-cohabitating dolphins and a woman who admits to "pleasuring" her dolphin roomie.
Margaret's voice sounds remarkably like Jane Fonda's BTW

Aug. 30 2014 12:57 AM
Mara from Boston

Awesome story - great beach read based on it: Easy Travel To Other Planets by ted mooney. Til this episode had no idea this fictional take was so closely based on the true story of the John lily research facility. It explores the reationship between the female trainer character, human/cross species relationships and impacts of the central dolphin/woman relationship lived full time aquatic on her human terrestrial life. Prose could use sig tightening but a page turner.

Another aside, I read that Margaret ended up marrying the facility photographer. they stayed on in the facility, where they raised two children.

Aug. 27 2014 09:43 AM

The music towards the end of this piece is quite beautiful. Anyone know what it is ?

Aug. 26 2014 07:39 PM
Amy from USA

Actually, dolphins do commit suicide, it's a well known fact. The whole study is actually part of a much larger study and group of individuals who were the first to do actual research with dolphins. Check it out. Maybe you should read the book and find out a little more, as this is just a little tiny bit of the whole story. No anthropomorphism here. Read about Dr. John C. Lilly and his research. Google it. Have a good day, Andy, I hope you enjoy what you learn (:

Aug. 26 2014 08:15 AM
Andy from Chicago

That is preposterous, dolphins or any animal do not commit suicide. Fascinating story, but the whole setup is so full of anthropomorphism, that's why they couldn't publish any findings or say anything concrete about what they learned.

Aug. 25 2014 10:23 PM

Peter was moved to Miami and put into isolation where he committed suicide.

Aug. 25 2014 12:17 PM
Annie Fahy from On the road to Savannah Ga

I find myself wondering about the termination of the Lilly study and what happened to Peter after. It?

Aug. 25 2014 12:46 AM

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