Known for their great intellect, dolphins have been popular research subjects for decades. In fact, a study in the 1960s saw a dolphin bond so deeply with a human it reportedly took its own life when they separated.
Coming together for a ten-week experiment, 23-year-old research assistant Margaret Howe spent most of her free time with a six-year-old bottlenose dolphin, Peter. However, when the two had to separate, Peter was devastated. Refusing to breathe, he sank to the bottom of his tank and died in what scientists claim is “an act of suicide.”
The Experiment’s Details and Peter Falling in Love
NASA funded this experiment to teach dolphins to understand and hopefully mimic human speech. The purpose was apparently to work out how humans could talk to aliens. Even more strange was the setting of the experiment. Dubbed “The Dolphin House,” it was a complex filled with water where Margaret and Peter would live together for ten weeks.
Margaret was to spend all her time in the 22-inch-deep seawater with Peter. The only exception was climbing onto a dry bed or desk which hung from the ceiling to sleep. Doing everything together, scientists wanted Peter to learn how to speak through his blowhole. Unpredictably, Peter’s own vet described the dolphin as “falling madly in love” with Margaret. Failing to get a dolphin to learn English, it succeeded in offering insight into animal emotions.
Sadly, things took a turn for the worst when the experiment’s funding ran out and the two had to separate. Within a few weeks, the heartbroken dolphin died in an apparent suicidal act. Ric O’Barry, a The Dolphin Project member, supports the idea of suicide.
“Dolphins are not automatic air-breathers like we are. Every breath is a conscious effort. If life becomes too unbearable, the dolphins just take a breath and they sink to the bottom. They don’t take the next breath.”
Dolphins Assist Rescuers and Find Missing Man Over 2 Miles Off Coast
While Peter’s story ended in tragedy, a recent story involving dolphins was much more positive. After a man went missing near a beach in the UK, dolphins helped rescuers find him more than 2 miles off the coast.
BBC reported the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) started searching the waters after finding clothing along the beach in County Kerry, Ireland. The swimmer in question couldn’t be located, even after searching for 12 hours. After some time, the rescuers noticed bottlenose dolphins swimming nearby. After looking closer at the dolphin group, the RNLI noticed a human head above the water.
It’s uncertain whether the dolphins found the man or vice versa. Regardless, the dolphins’ interference resulted in RNLI rescuing the man. The RNLI reports “the casualty was conscious and immediately recovered onto the lifeboat and brought Fenit Harbour to be taken to hospital.”