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Beware of the Boto?
The enigmatic pink river dolphin, aka Boto, of the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers is an aquatic creature that many guests to the region can’t wait to observe. Most guests on IE’s Amazon River cruises do not come away disappointed as these lovely creatures are fairly abundant in many areas of the Peruvian Amazon.
The Amazon pink dolphin is the world’s largest fresh water dolphin, and large females may reach over eight feet in length. Males tend to be a little smaller, typically reaching about six to seven feet in length. The color of pink dolphins is highly variable, but young dolphins are usually gray — as are some adults — but many adults attain a gorgeous pink coloration, hence their name, pink river dolphin. To see a bubble-gum pink dolphin as it surfaces in the black waters of Pacaya or Samiria Rivers is one of the greatest pleasures in the natural world. In the black water systems, one can easily view all of the characteristics of this unique animal.
Unlike marine dolphins, the Boto only has a hump on its back (no dorsal fin). It also has a very long beak with many teeth that permits the dolphin to pursue fish and crabs from submerged tree snags. During low water, the pink dolphin is often observed at the mouths of tributaries that empty into the Amazon River. Here they use sonar to locate prey as it is brought downstream by ebbing water. During high water, as the water rises into the lowland forest, which is then called — you guessed it — the flooded forest, the pink dolphins swim into the forest in search of prey. It is during this time when another marvelous adaptation can be observed; the dolphin can swim and turn sharply around trees. Pink river dolphins have a flexible neck that allows the dolphin to turn its head 180 degrees from the line of the body. This flexibility is an amazing feat for a dolphin and serves the dolphin well when swimming within the flooded realm of the lowland rainforest.
Of importance to the local people are some of the legends that persist today about the pink dolphin. Along the river, many of the Ribereňos people believe that the Boto can transform itself into a man. Whenever a young girl or unmarried woman gets pregnant, it is claimed that the Boto left the river disguised as a man, impregnated the woman then returned to the river once again as a Boto. Who am I to dispute legend, but I certainly have my doubts...don’t you?
I hope that all guests who travel to Amazon have the same opportunities that I have had in observing the incredible pink dolphins. Observing them is often one of the many highlights that standout in guests memories upon returning home.
Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history, photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.