These majestic creatures are the largest freshwater mammals on earth ... and can change colors!

The Amazon pink river dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) goes by many other names as boto and bufeo, and is a species of the toothed whale. Unlike other dolphins, these mammals reside in freshwater rivers, and as their name suggests, they have distinct pinkish skin. They are mostly found throughout the Amazon and Orinoco river basins and are considered mythical in South American culture. 

amazon dolphin

Amazon River Dolphin, Photo from Wikipedia 

Myths

These enigmatic creatures are subject to many mythological stories. According to World Wildlife Fund, here are some of the most predominant legends revolving around the pink dolphins:

  • According to legends, during the night the dolphin transforms into a handsome young man dressed in white. He steps ashore and often hypnotizes young women of the local Amazonian villages. The shapeshifter or Encantado impregnates the woman before returning to the river at dawn. 
  • Another legend speaks about the mythical, mystical underwater "world of Encante." It warns anyone who goes swimming alone in the river. The pink river dolphin, transforming into human form, takes lone swimmers—children and adults, to the underwater world, from which they never return.
  • Some folklores render them as the guardian of the Amazonian manatee. The Amazonian manatees are rare to spot and, according to the legends, only the pink dolphin can grant you access to see one.
  • The giant dolphins are also considered sacred among the Amazonians. The locals believe that killing (intentionally or accidentally) or eating a pink dolphin can bring bad luck and peril to the sinner. In some parts, it is even considered dangerous to make eye contact with these dolphins. Local fishermen believe that doing so can unleash nightmares and forever haunt you with terrible dreams of dolphin visions.

"It is believed that these myths kept local people from intentionally killing them and have actually played a role in the stability of the Amazon river dolphin population," says Meg Symington, WWF's managing director for the Amazon. 

Reality

The Amazon pink dolphins or boto are found in the Amazon regions of South America, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Venezuela.

They are often considered blind, but they are not. The dolphins are naturally curious and can "look straight into your eyes." Such gaze may explain the myths of nightmares and avoiding eye contact with them.

They are the largest species of river dolphins with an age span of almost 30 years. Adult males can reach up to 185 kilograms (408 lbs) in weight and 2.5 meters (8.2 ft) in length, while females reach a weight of almost 150 kilograms (330 lbs) and 2.15 meters (7.1 ft).

It is usually the adult male who bears pinkish skin, while infants and baby dolphins are grey in color. With age, some dolphins change color in patches or spots, while others may turn completely pink. The possible explanation of this coloration can be scar tissues that develop mostly in males due to rough games or aggressive fights for conquest.

Pink river dolphin

Image from Shutterstock

Apart from being the largest freshwater mammal, the pink river dolphin also has the largest brain! They also have one of the widest-ranging diets among toothed whales and feed on up to 53 different fish species, including croakers, catfish, tetras, river turtles, and even piranhas.

Unlike the marine dolphins, the pink river dolphins prefer solitary or smaller groups. They enjoy human interaction, especially with young children, but are rarely seen leaping out through the waves.

Not only are these animals smart, but they are super agile too! Unlike other dolphins, the vertebrae in their necks are unfused, which enables them to turn their head 180 degrees. They can even swim with flippers paddling in opposite directions. 

river dolphin

Photo from Stock 

The botos are always considered data deficient because of their shy and elusive nature. But in 2018, it was classified endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Illegal hunting of these dolphins remains a major threat, as well as the loss of habitat from Amazon fires and entanglement in fishing lines, which has significantly impacted the animals' population. The Amazon River Dolphin Conservation Foundation (ARDCF) estimates approximately 1,500 pink river dolphins are hunted by fishermen and poachers every year. The population of these animals has decreased almost 50% over the last 75 years.

If you ever want to get a sight of this mystical creature, visit the Peruvian Amazon river basin or the Galapagos area in the rainy season. The dolphins are most active and playful in the early mornings through the afternoons. If you are lucky, you can see some incredibly intelligent botos who can even recognize the local guides!

Have you ever visited the Amazon river basins and encountered a boto? Please share your experience with us in the comments.