Hold onto your swim caps, we’re about to dive into the world of the Amazon river dolphin, aka the pink river dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) – the most fabulous and flamboyant member of the dolphin family. Found only in the murky waters of South America’s Amazon River basin, these barbie-pink creatures are a fantastic sight, but as with much that is out of the ordinary, they’re also shrouded in mystery and folklore.
With their rosy hues and playful personalities, Amazon river dolphins are the very definition of ‘extra’. But, why are they pink in the first place? How fast can they swim? And what’s being done to save them from extinction?
What does an Amazon river dolphin look like?
Aside from their distinctive pink hue, Amazon river dolphins have a robust body with a fusiform shape (a tapered spindle shape) and a long snout (the technical term for which is a ‘rostrum’) filled with two types of teeth. They have sharp, pointy teeth at the front for catching prey, and – like humans – flatter teeth at the back for grinding.
They have a prominent, bulging forehead, known as a ‘melon’. Yes, the dolphin’s distinctive forehead is called a melon, and it houses the dolphin’s echolocation system. The pink river dolphin can even change the shape of their melon, which researchers believe could help them change the echolocation’s pulse direction, size and/or frequency.
Like most dolphins, their sleek and streamlined body is designed for slipping through the water – and jumping above the surface – which in this case, is the murky depths of the Amazon River. Their long and powerful tail is used for propulsion and steering. Likewise, their eyes are relatively small and are generally thought to have poor eyesight, but in low light conditions, the pupils are adapted to dilate, allowing them to see more clearly in the dimly lit Amazonian waters.
But unlike other dolphins, the spine of the Amazon river dolphin is not fused together, meaning they can turn their head side-to-side. Handy for making tight turns.
Their wide, paddle-shaped flippers can move independently of one another, and are well-suited for manoeuvring through the river’s complex currents and obstacles, or for chasing a tasty meal into a flooded forest area. However, they are not designed for super-fast speeds, especially when compared to their faster ocean-dwelling cousins.
Where does the pink river dolphin live?
While dolphins are most commonly associated with saltwater oceans, there are five species that have adapted to the freshwater of several major rivers:
- The tucuxi
- Ganges River dolphin
- Indus River dolphin
- Irrawaddy dolphin
- Amazon River dolphin
The pink river dolphin, or Amazon river dolphin – also known as a boto – is found throughout the Amazon and Orinoco river basins of South America, spanning Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Guyana.
How much does a pink river dolphin weigh?
The Amazon pink river dolphin is the largest freshwater dolphin in the world.
Adult males can reach lengths of up to 2.7 metres (9 feet) long and weigh up to 180kg (400 lbs).
Adult females are typically slightly smaller, weighing around 100kg (220 lbs) on average.
How fast can a pink river dolphin swim?
The pink river dolphin is a relatively slow-swimming species compared to its ocean-dwelling counterparts. Adult pink river dolphins typically swim at speeds between 8-13 km/h (5-8 mph), with occasional bursts of up to 24 km/h (15 mph) over short distances (perhaps in pursuit of a tasty snack).
But despite their slower speed, pink river dolphins are highly manoeuvrable. They have to be, as the Amazon River can throw up complex currents, and various obstacles that need dodging at the last minute.
Their short, paddle-like flippers and long, powerful tail make them well-suited for navigating through shallow and narrow waterways, allowing them to catch fish and avoid predators in the Amazonian waters.
What does the pink river dolphin eat?
Pink river dolphins have a flexible and varied diet – perhaps thanks in part to their two types of teeth – and the specific types of prey may vary depending on factors such as location, season, and availability of food.
The pink river dolphin feeds primarily on a wide variety of fish found in the Amazon River and its various tributaries. Some of the fish species that are commonly consumed by pink river dolphins include piranhas (yikes!), catfish, characins, and tetras.