Let’s talk dolphin!

A dolphin with a scuba diver

If dolphins could talk: ‘Get your face out of my blowhole!’ Photograph: Stephen Frink/Getty Images/Science Faction

The vision was set out in Life magazine in 1961 by Dr John C Lilly, an American physiologist, who was pictured at his laboratory in white shirt-sleeves with a microphone pressed against the blowhole of a young dolphin called Elvar.

Lilly was partial to hallucinogenic drugs and championed the recreational use of isolation chambers meant for sensory deprivation studies, but he also held a rare passion for dolphins. He devoted much of his life – and no fewer than five books – to the animals and dreamed one day of creating a common language we might use to converse with them. He even sketched designs for an aquatic lounge, where pods and people could meet for a natter.

And all for good reason, Lilly argued. Together, side-by-side with our marine mammal comrades, humans would be invincible. Or at least better at measuring ocean currents, collecting spent nose-cones from space rockets and fishing. “No human is as good at detecting, tracking, herding and catching fish as dolphins are. If we could get their cooperation, the whole fishing industry might be revised,” he wrote.

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