We were on a journey along the coast of Brazil stopping at various small ports and then sailing 1000 miles up the Amazon River and back to the mouth. At Manaus, ( the furthest point we sailed to ) we took a small boat and cruised for one and a half hours along the Amazon and into a tributary called The Rio Negro which translates to Black River. Black it was, compared to The Amazon. The Amazon is a silty brown colour. Murky and thick. Constantly changing. So much so that the river pilots have to retrain every two weeks.
We were on a mission to swim with The Pink Dolphins. I was so excited, but terrified at the same time as I was not a swimmer. I was determined to do it and was relieved to find they gave us a skirt type floating device to keep you up. Oh, but I was out of my comfort zone as I could not touch the bottom. “OK Maggie you can do this” I told myself. Into the water I slipped, bracing myself for the cold temperature. Delightfully surprised to find the water must have been around 85 % F. Oh joy! First hurdle overcome.
We floated around with an employee from the company providing us with this delightful experience. I wondered if this was going to work, or were we on a fool’s errand. Here we were in the river, but where were the dolphins ?
Suddenly around my feet moved the dolphins as the two of them weighing around 300 pounds came in. It was an amazing feeling and they totally took me by surprise.
There are five species of river dolphins. Four are functionally extinct or close to extinction. The Boto, Boutu or Amazon River Dolphins are highly intelligent with a brain capacity 40 % larger than humans. This explains how they know when feeding time is at the viewing station and show up even though they are totally free and wild.
River Dolphins are among the most endangered species of all the worlds cetaceans.
Look at those rows of peg-like teeth. I guess my thumb was in the wrong spot and one of them thought it was a fish. So I ended up having a big bruise. I considered it was worth it.
Amazon River Dolphins are endangered for several reasons. Acceleration of destruction of the Amazon Basin where they have lived for centuries has become a real problem. Mercury used in gold mining is leaching into the river and killing them off. Increased shipping is another problem as they are friendly and inquisitive creatures. They tend to approach ships and get injured in their sharp propellers. The noise from shipping producers sound pollution which in turn producers a disorienting phenomenon in their navigation systems causing more deaths.
The most disturbing cause of deaths that breaks my heart is-the local fishermen catch and kill then off. Chop them up into chunks and put pieces in a box as bait to lure catfish into a box, which is then lifted from the water after the fish has been caught and the trap is reset. Although this practice is illegal, I am sure it still goes on.
I love you…just give me the fish please.
Amazon River Dolphins range in colour from light grey, pink or brown. It is not known why. It does not appear to have anything to do with their diet. However, it appears that when they are excited or surprised they colour up…resembling blushing in humans.
When the supply of fish dried up the dolphins slipped quietly away and we were left to enjoyed the warm water.
This was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. To be so close to the dolphins and to interact with them was amazing. To be able to reach out to touch and stroke their soft rubbery skin…indescribable. My heart was full and very thankful for the experience..