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Pink River Dolphins: What Are They & Where Do They Come From?


If you love dolphins like I do, you might have been surprised to see photos of the real life pink dolphins, some with bulbous heads, who live in the Amazon. The pink river dolphins, also known as Amazon river dolphins or boto, are one of the most fascinating and iconic inhabitants of the Amazon Basin. Here are some compelling factoids about these curious creatures: 


Yes, they’re pink! Pink river dolphins are characterized by their distinctive pink coloration, which is more prominent in adults, particularly on their bellies. They have long, slender bodies with a bulbous forehead and a flexible neck that allows them to maneuver easily in shallow waters. Pink dolphins have small eyes and a long snout, and they lack a dorsal fin.


Freshwater dolphins! Pink river dolphins inhabit the freshwater rivers, tributaries, and oxbow lakes of the Amazon Basin, including the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve in Peru. They are highly adaptable to various aquatic environments, from murky blackwater rivers to clearwater tributaries, and can be found in both shallow and deep waters.


Where did they come from? Experts believe ancestors of the Amazon river dolphin once lived in marine environments. Over time, as the Amazon River basin formed and evolved, some dolphin populations became isolated from the ocean and adapted to their freshwater environment. This process likely occurred over millions of years as the Amazon River and its tributaries developed into the vast network of waterways we see today.


Just as playful as ocean dolphins. Pink river dolphins are known for their playful and curious behavior, often approaching boats and swimmers out of curiosity. They are skilled hunters, using echolocation to navigate and locate prey in the murky waters of the Amazon. Pink dolphins are also social animals, often seen traveling in small groups or pairs.


Habitats threatened. While pink river dolphins are not currently classified as endangered, they face threats from habitat destruction, pollution, and human activity such as hunting and fishing. Conservation efforts are underway to protect their habitats and ensure the long-term survival of these charismatic creatures.


Cultural Significance: Pink river dolphins hold cultural significance for the indigenous communities living along the Amazon River. In local folklore, they are often depicted as shape-shifting creatures or magical guardians of the rivers. Indigenous peoples have coexisted with pink dolphins for centuries and hold them in high regard as symbols of the Amazon's rich biodiversity and mystery.


How to see them: Pink dolphins can be found all over the Amazon Basin in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. I recommend taking a river cruiser through the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve in Peru on the Aqua Nera, Delfin II, Delfin III, or Zafiro (trips at links). On these voyages, you’ll have the opportunity to encounter pink river dolphins during guided boat tours and excursions along the reserve's waterways. Local guides are essential as they know the dolphins' habits and behaviors and can help you spot them when you might have missed them.


Contact us and we’ll help you bask in the playful presences of these amazing animals.


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