The Pink River Dolphin

Amazon River Dolphin
Image of a young Amazon River Dolphin, also known as a “pink river dolphin”. Image courtesy of Nortondefeis, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The pink river dolphin (amazon river dolphin) is a unique species of toothed whale that’s born gray and turns pink as it ages. It inhabits 6 countries in South America (Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela) and is the largest species of river dolphin in the world. In fact, it can reach a length of over 8 feet and a weight of 400 pounds.

Why does the amazon river dolphin turn pink?

There are several theories as to why the amazon river dolphin turns pink but the issue is still up for debate. Let’s discuss three of the most common theories regarding the dolphins change in color.

  1. Scar tissue – There is a general consensus that the amazon dolphin experiences repeated abrasions of the skin throughout its life. Males are known to fight each other often and after 30 long years (lifespan of a pink river dolphin) a significant amount of scar tissue develops. Also, the river dolphin is very agile and has been known to traverse shallow waters and difficult terrain which could increase the likelihood of repeated abrasions.
  2. Evolutionary defense – Some scientists believe the pink skin is a form of evolutionary defense allowing the dolphin to blend in to the murky waters of the jungle (rivers in the area have been known to have a red tint in some areas due to mud and clay runoff). Jaguars, snakes and caimans (a carnivorous reptile closely related to the alligator) all pray on the amazon river dolphin.
  3. Thinning skin – Other scientists believe the river dolphins skin thins with age allowing the blood vessels to become more superficial. This can be observed when the dolphin performs activity as the increased blood flow can be seen through the skin. Think of it like this, during an intense exercise routine your skin may become a bit flush and discolored. In older individuals this is even easier to observe. Maybe the same phenomena occurs with river dolphins.

I would lean toward the belief that all three factors listed above play a role in the transformation. Anyhow, regardless of what causes the skin color to change, the pink river dolphin sure is a sight to see!

Playful Pink Amazon River Dolphin
Image of a Pink Amazon River Dolphin poking its head above the water in a playful manner. Image via Michel Viard.

Pink River Dolphin Facts

  1. The pink river dolphin only lives in freshwater, you will not find these majestic cetaceans swimming in the ocean. However, you will find these aquatic mammals swimming in lakes and rivers throughout the amazon.
  2. It has several names including the amazon river dolphin (Inia geoffrensis), pink river dolphin, bufeo and boto (boto is used most often in Colombia).
  3. The cervical vertebrae of the river dolphins’ spine are not fused together which allows it to turn its head 90 degrees. This particular dolphin has no problem maneuvering around rocks and other debris throughout the Amazon.
  4. They are endangered. Due to population growth in the basins of the amazon and orinoco rivers pollution has increased considerably. River traffic and development in the region has also grown and according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) some fisherman use the amazon river dolphin as bait. Negative fishing practices and changes to the local environment have had a negative impact on the pink river dolphin population.
  5. They can live for 30 years. That’s right, amazon river dolphins can live for decades. However, they do not live long in captivity. According to a study named “inia geoffrensis in Captivity in the United States”, average lifespan of a amazon river dolphin in captivity is only 33 months. Factors including “golf ball disease” and aggressive behavior are believed to have contributed to the dolphin’s increased mortality rate.
  6. They eat piranhas. The river dolphin is an excellent predator and has been known to feast on piranha from time to time. In fact, the river dolphin is such a good hunter it feeds on over 50 different species of fish and even enjoys a few crab on occasion.
Amazon River dolphin (pink dolphin)
Image of an Amazon River Dolphin holding a green leaf. Image courtesy of Michelle Bender, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Where to find pink river dolphins in Colombia

Visiting Colombia? Want to see some pink dolphins? You’re in luck! Nestled next to the Amazon River near the border of Colombia and Peru is Lake Tarapoto, a protected wetland where pink dolphins roam freely in their natural habitat. The easiest way to access Lake Tarapoto is through Leticia which is Colombia’s southern-most town and the capital of the department of Amazonas. Leticia is the biggest city in the region with a population of approximately 50,000 people. Letecia also has an airport and the flight from Bogota is around 2 hours. From Letecia, you will take a boat for 2 hours up the Amazon River to a town called Puerto Narino. Puerto Narino is the best place in Colombia to find amazon river dolphin tours.

Want to book a tour, Amazonas Jungle Tours is a good place to start. If you enjoyed the article, leave a comment below and let us know! We appreciate the feedback.

Tags: AnimalsColombiaNatureTourismTravel

Erik Magnus

About the Author

Erik Magnus is a writer, editor, blogger & webmaster. He is one of the main contributors to Colombia Please & has spent a significant amount of time in the country of Colombia.

2 comments on "The Pink River Dolphin"

  1. These are magnificent creatures. It is interesting that they are freshwater whales. I’d love to see them in person. Thanks for sharing.

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