Environment

The dolphin who loved me: the Nasa-funded project that went wrong

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In the 1960s, Margaret Lovatt was part of a Nasa-funded project to communicate with dolphins. Soon she was living with 'Peter' 24 hours a day in a converted house. Christopher Rileyreports on an experiment that went tragically wrong

Like most children, Margaret Howe Lovatt grew up with stories of talking animals. "There was this book that my mother gave to me called Miss Kelly," she remembers with a twinkle in her eye. "It was a story about a cat who could talk and understand humans and it just stuck with me that maybe there is this possibility."

Unlike most children, Lovatt didn't leave these tales of talking animals behind her as she grew up. In her early 20s, living on the Caribbean island of St Thomas, they took on a new significance. During Christmas 1963, her brother-in-law mentioned a secret laboratory at the eastern end of the island where they were working with dolphins. She decided to pay the lab a visit early the following year. "I was curious," Lovatt recalls. "I drove out there, down a muddy hill, and at the bottom was a cliff with a big white building."

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