THE AMAZON PINK RIVER DOLPHIN
Usually, aquatic mammals are found in the world’s oceans. But there is one aquatic mammal also found in the rivers of the Amazon Rainforest – The Amazon Pink River Dolphin.
Here in Ecuador, they are also called Bufeo. These dolphins belong to the family of the toothed whales and feed from hunting fish and other aquatic animals. They are found in muddy waters of the Amazon and Orinoco basins, and they readily forage among the trees of flooded forests.
Bufeos, which range in length from about 2 to 2.5m (6.6 – 8.2 ft), have a long, slender snout, bulbous head, and modest dorsal fin. Adult males can reach a weight up to 180 kg (400 lb), females approx. 100 kg (220 lb). They tend to be pale in color, sometimes distinctly pinkish. They tend to live in small groups of two to four animals, often at the mouth of a tributary or stream.
Unlike the majority of dolphins, bufeos have a flexible neck and are able to do 90° turns with their torso. They are nearly blind, but have very good sonar abilities.
But why are they called PINK River Dolphins?
The body color is changing with age. Newborns and the young dolphins have a dark grey shade, which in adolescence transforms into light grey, and as adults turns pink as a result abrasion of the skin. Males usually are pinker than females due to a more aggressive behavior and they hurt the skin more through fighting. Also, the temperature, water transparency, geographical location, capillary placement, diet, and exposure to sunlight can influence the final intensity of the pink. And when the bufeos get excited, they can flush bright pink, similar to humans blushing.
As many other Amazonian animals, also the Pink River Dolphin is stuff of legends. For instance, it has been said that if a man carries a tooth of a bufeo, he will enjoy large and lasting erections. Uhhuh ;-)! Another story claims that during the night, the dolphins turn into handsome men to seduce the beautiful young women of the villages.
Nowadays, unfortunately, the Pink River Dolphin is on the list of endangered species and about to be extinct in Ecuador. The reason is that he was hunted for meat, but even the teeth are popular collectibles – possibly because of the legends.
But there is hope for the mammals. Some indigenous people have committed themselves to protecting dolphins in community projects. For example, the community of Martinica, in the easternmost part of Ecuador, bordering with Peru. Working with biologists, the community created a plan to bring the dolphins to the Cocaya River and into its guarded lagoons. There they find a place where the dolphins can reproduce in peace. Several juvenile dolphins have since been recorded, thanks to the good work of Martinica.
Curious visitors have – with some luck – the chance to get to see these fascinating Pink Mammels during their stay in the Yaku Warmi Lodge. This is another ambitious and sustainable project of Martinica. Find out more.