Day of the Dolphin Summary

  • Last updated on July 14, 2023
Title: Day of the Dolphin by Robert Merle

Author: Robert Merle
Title: Day of the Dolphin
Publication Date: 1967
Genre: Science fiction thriller
Page Length: Not specified


Day of the Dolphin, written by Robert Merle in 1967, is a science fiction thriller that explores the moral and ethical dilemmas of animal intelligence and human intervention. The story takes place in the near future and centers around the groundbreaking research conducted on dolphins to teach them to communicate and understand human language.

Part 1: Scientific Breakthrough (Chapters 1-5)
The book introduces us to Jake Terrell, a renowned dolphin researcher, who has successfully trained a pair of dolphins, Alpha and Beta, to comprehend and respond to basic human vocal commands. Together with his team, which includes his assistant Maggie and financial sponsor Curtis Mahoney, Terrell hopes to take this research to the next level.

Part 2: Governmental Interference (Chapters 6-12)
The United States government, represented by a secretive organization known as N.I.T.E. (Non-Intrusive Teaching Experiment), takes an interest in Terrell's research and offers to lend their support. Initially pleased with this opportunity, Terrell soon realizes that N.I.T.E. has ulterior motives. They intend to exploit the dolphins' remarkable abilities for their own military gain. Troubled by this revelation, Terrell becomes torn between his passion for science and safeguarding the dolphins' welfare.

Part 3: A Rescue Mission (Chapters 13-19)
As Terrell vows to rescue his beloved dolphins from N.I.T.E.'s clutches, he enlists the help of a journalist named Maggie McKee and her photographer colleague, Curtis Levitt. They uncover N.I.T.E.'s plan to train the dolphins for a top-secret mission—targeting a foreign submarine equipped with nuclear weapons. Racing against time, the determined group sets out to prevent this potential catastrophe.

Part 4: The Day of the Dolphin (Chapters 20-25)
In a desperate bid to stop N.I.T.E.'s sinister plot, Terrell and his team devise a daring plan. Utilizing Alpha and Beta's advanced communication skills, they hope to communicate with the dolphins aboard the nuclear-armed submarine directly. As the clock ticks down, tension rises. Will they be successful in averting disaster, or will the dolphins ultimately be used as weapons of destruction?

Part 5: Ethical Reflections (Chapters 26-30)
After the climactic events of the Day of the Dolphin, the narrative shifts to a more contemplative tone. Merle explores the ethical implications of human interaction with intelligent animals. Terrell questions the morality of exploiting animals for military purposes, leading him to grapple with his own responsibility as a scientist. The novel concludes with Terrell's introspection and a somber reflection on mankind's relationship with the natural world.

1. Jake Terrell: A brilliant dolphin researcher who becomes the protagonist torn between his scientific ambitions and the welfare of the dolphins under his care.
2. Maggie McKee: An independent journalist who aids Terrell in his mission to protect the dolphins from N.I.T.E.'s malevolent intentions.
3. Curtis Mahoney: The financial sponsor of Terrell's research, who ultimately reveals his allegiance lies with N.I.T.E. rather than the dolphins' well-being.
4. Alpha and Beta: The two dolphins at the center of the story, capable of understanding and responding to human language.

1. Ethics and Morality: The novel raises questions about humanity's treatment of intelligent animals and the responsibility of scientists in their research.
2. Power and Exploitation: N.I.T.E.'s desire to harness the dolphins' abilities as military weapons highlights the dangers of unchecked power and exploitation.
3. Communication and Understanding: Day of the Dolphin explores the possibilities and challenges of cross-species communication and the need for empathy and connection.


Day of the Dolphin remains a thought-provoking and relevant novel that delves into the ethical dilemmas surrounding animal intelligence, human intervention, and the potential consequences of exploiting non-human beings. While set in a fictional world, the narrative raises pertinent questions about the boundaries of science and the ethical responsibilities humanity holds towards the natural world. Merle's well-researched and engrossing storytelling serves as a cautionary tale, urging readers to contemplate the intersections between technology, ethics, and our stewardship of the planet.

Categories: Books