The Dolphin Who Learned to Speak

Dr Jean Frye… Kate McKinnon

Dr. Mary Hartman… Aidy Bryant

Tiffany Haddish

[Starts with BBC video bumper]

Female voice: And now we return to our feature presentation, the dolphin who learned to speak.

[Cut to the video documentary]

Male voice: In the 1960s, there was a ground swell of scientific research into the minds of animals. The Mammal Cognition Lab was primarily focused on Dolphin communication.

[Cut to Dr Jean Frye and Dr. Mary Hartman]

Dr Jean Frye narrating: We were a two woman team eager to prove ourselves in the male dominated field of science.

Dr. Mary Hartman narrating: Our objective was simple. Can dolphins acquire human language? What if a dolphin could speak?

[Cut to old video clip of Dr. Mary Hartman recording dolphin’s voice]

Dr. Mary Hartman: May 7th, 1965.

Dr Jean Frye narrating: Our specimen was a 15 year old male named Gerald. He was very smart. Very strong willed.

[Cut to old video of Dr. Mary Hartman teaching a dolphin to talk]

Dr. Mary Hartman: A. See my mouth. A. [dolphin sound] Gerald.

Dr. Mary Hartman narrating: But as Gerald reached breeding age, he became less focused. Agitated. His natural drive was distracting him from our work.

Dr Jean Frye narrating: You know, when a dolphin reaches sexual maturity, there is no stopping them. And then one day, I was in the water with Gerald when he got that glassy look in his eye that meant he was having an urge, so to speak. And so, I turned to Mary and I said, “Why don’t I just yank him off real quick?” Just like that. It just came out.

Dr. Mary Hartman narrating: At first I wasn’t sure it was ethical but we had to, for the science. So, I did it.

Dr Jean Frye narrating: So, I did it. Right away, he was clear as a bell and we were able to quickly get back to our work.

Dr. Mary Hartman narrating: Yes. And so it became part of our routine. We would work a while, yank a while, work a while, yank a while. And then, a tug or two and then teach a dolphin to speak.

Male voice: Their methods were unorthodox and their colleagues in other parts of the lab began to take notice.

Tiffany narrating: I was on the echo location unit across the hall. We knew what they were doing in there. I wrote about it in my field notes. April 21st. 1965. “No, no, no. That’s nasty! All of you are nasty, sick people, yanking off that fish. Hell no!”

Dr Jean Frye narrating: For a while, the progress was astounding. He learned the alphabets. We were about to teach him sign language.
Dr. Mary Hartman narrating: Yes, but soon he started to regress. Really, only doing a few signs. The signs for ‘hand’, and ‘now’, and ‘who gonna J me O’.

Tiffany narrating: I’m pretty sure Gerald was talking to the other dolphins and tell them, “Hey, you don’t have to work for fish. They will do other things.”

Dr Jean Frye narrating: Well, eventually, the hand sessions took up most of the time.

Dr. Mary Hartman narrating: Almost seven to eight hours of the day. Later, I suggested a way of working as a team. So, to speed up the process.

Dr Jean Frye narrating: When she was the hand, I would wait outside the door. I would count to 20 and I would bust in and I would say, “Who’s doing nasty things in here? Bad Gerald!” Gerald really liked shame.

Dr. Mary Hartman narrating: And this was good, of course for the science.

Male voice: But after 10 years of work with Gerald, he was approved for a well deserved retirement from the research lab.

Dr. Mary Hartman narrating: It was hard to say goodbye to Gerald, physically, because he was frantically trying to turn into a sex thing. Eventually, they cleared Gerald for release into the wild. But boy, do I still think of him fondly.