‘Mythical’ Pink Dolphins of the Amazon River Are Real, but Rare; Here’s How You Can Find Them

February 23, 2021 Updated: February 23, 2021

If you spend much time watching underwater nature documentaries, you might come to know the dolphin as an incredibly intelligent ocean mammal—it’s demeanor, often playful; it’s skin, typically gray.

However, one species of dolphin stands out from the norm. Rather than dwelling in the saltwater of the ocean, this dolphin resides in freshwater rivers; rather than having grey skin, this dolphin’s skin is an incredible pinkish hue.

Meet the Amazon river dolphin.

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This incredible freshwater mammal is technically classified as a toothed whale, though it’s prolonged snout is distinctly dolphin-like. It is the largest species of river dolphin, and it develops pink skin as it approaches adulthood, making it a colorful addition to the Amazon and Orinoco river basins.

The Amazon river dolphin (or boto) it is typically found in the Amazon regions of South America, including in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Venezuela.

According to Ecuador and Galapagos Insiders (EGI), while adult Amazon river dolphins are pink, infants are actually born gray. Some change color in patches or spots; others turn completely pink, with males usually turning the pinkest.

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They can grow as large as 9.2 feet long, weighing around 352 pounds (approx. 160 kg), and can live up to 30 years. In fact, Aqua Expeditions reports that pink river dolphins have the largest bodies and brains of all freshwater dolphins.

Perhaps due to their albino-like appearance, EGI reports that the species is rumored to be blind; however, this is not the case. Despite having somewhat small eyes, the pink dolphin has fantastic eyesight.

Unlike their saltwater cousins, pink dolphins are more solitary, preferring to spend time alone or in small groups. A large food source, however, can bring them together in large groups.

Even though they enjoy solitude, pink dolphins are similarly friendly to humans, like their oceanic counterparts. They will interact with people, though unlike marine dolphins, they don’t often put on a show by leaping over the waves.

But their lack of acrobatics is for a lack of agility.

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According to Aqua Expeditions, these dolphins have the capability to turn their heads 180 degrees, swim with their flippers paddling in opposite directions, swim upside down, and more. All of these dexterous maneuvers allow them to avoid rocks, tree trunks, and other river obstacles.

The pink dolphin is most active during early daytime, so anyone visiting the Amazon River basin is most likely to spot one during the early morning to afternoon hours in places like Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

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Unfortunately, the species is also facing threats. Conservation groups have endeavored to raise awareness about the dangers facing pink dolphins, such as getting caught in fishing lines.

However, the Amazon river dolphin is considered a “mythical” creature in many parts of South America, so there is hope that its special status can help it recover from endangerment. Many locals have a deep respect for the animal; in some areas, it’s even considered bad luck to harm a pink dolphin.

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An Amazon river dolphin being fed by local villager, Rio Negro, Manaus, in Amazon State, Brazil (GTW/Shutterstock)

According to the Amazon River Dolphin Conservation Foundation (ARDCF), the pink dolphin is listed as Endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The species also faces threats ranging from recent fires in the Amazon to being used as bait and being viewed as competition by fishermen.

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(Marcos Mello/Shutterstock)

ARDCF estimates that 1,500 pink river dolphins are hunted and killed by fishermen and poachers each year. Worse, the 2015 memorandum that made it illegal to hunt these beautiful mammals has expired, and it is now legal to kill the Amazon river dolphin and use it as fishing bait.

For now though, this animal can still be seen swimming next to tourist lodges in the Galapagos or be found with the help of a local guide in the Peruvian Amazon and in other places. It’s even rumored this incredibly intelligent mammal can recognize its local human neighbors!

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