This is the story of the most extraordinary and audacious experiment in the history of animal science. It was carried out by visionary ‘60s neuroscientist John Lilly, who had a remarkable ambition. He wanted to be able to communicate with dolphins, by teaching them to speak English.
To perform the experiment Lilly built a large white concrete house on the coast of the US Virgin Islands in the Caribbean and hired a team of researchers to study what he felt was one of the smartest animals on Earth.
Known as the Dolphin House, the building had a sea pool underneath it, which held three animals and allowed the scientists to observe them at close quarters.
One of the researchers, a young woman called Margaret Howe, was charged with teaching them to talk through their blowholes, and started by giving them lessons in a large tank upstairs. But the experiment was limited, and she soon suggested modifying the labs; flooding the room to allow her to live with one of the dolphins full-time.
Between 1965 and 1966 she gave her pupil, an adolescent male called Peter, concentrated language coaching, in an attempt to accelerate his ability to speak English.
Bizarrely, the experiment was seized upon by NASA, which helped with funding. They were embarking on the first serious search for extra-terrestrial intelligence beyond the Earth. When they found ET, they would need to communicate with a species other than humans. And here was the opportunity to practice such inter-species communication, without leaving the planet.
But what started with ‘60s idealism would spiral into the darkness of the decade. The experiment would end in tragedy, and for years after there would be rumours and scandal about drug abuse and a sexual relationship between Peter and Margaret.
Now, for the first time, the real story of what happened at the Dolphin House can be told.
A trailer for the film is viewable at: https://vimeo.com/90733140
The film will be premiered at Sheffield’s International Doc Fest at 3.45pm on Wednesday 11 June 2014: http://sheffdocfest.com/films/5686 and will also be broadcast on BBC Four on 17 June at 9pm.
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For interviews and information about The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins, contact Rufus Stone.
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