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The pink river dolphin is known by dozens of names, including the boto, Amazon River dolphin, pink porpoise and wee quacker. This unusual mammal lives in the Amazon and Orinoco rivers, and as such is a freshwater animal. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the pink river dolphin as vulnerable to extinction, mostly due to habitat loss.
No reason has been given as conclusive evidence regarding why the boto is so brightly colored, although it has been observed that they turn pinker when excited or frightened. Adult dolphins reach lengths of 8 ft (2.5 m) and typically weigh about 330-396 lbs (150-180 kg.) They are the largest freshwater dolphin in the world, and also believed to be the most intelligent.
The pink river dolphin has an exceptionally flexible body and long, straight beak containing many teeth. They subsist on a diet of local fish, crab, and occasionally turtles. For their body size, they have rather large flippers that curve back toward their bodies. Their vocalizations tend to be both low or high frequency whistles and clicks, and have been only rarely recorded by researchers.
Gestation is approximately 11 months, with births of one calf being common. Pink river dolphin babies are usually dark gray, lightening in color as they mature to become grayish-pink or bright pink. The dolphins live in groups of between 5-8 animals, often led by the eldest or largest male. Some do seem to prefer solitary lives, coming together for breeding purposes.
Many local residents in the area surrounding the dolphins’ habitat believe the animals have special powers. A popular legend is that the boto is a shapeshifter called an encantado, who becomes a beautiful young man at night. Much to the distress of the local human females, the boto will make them fall madly in love with him only to return to the water as a dolphin in the morning. Another legend believes it is bad luck to kill a boto, and that making eye contact with the animals will result in nightmares.
Despite local belief that the dolphins should not be harmed, they are often killed by commercial fishermen, as they compete for river fish. Other threats to the pink river dolphin include the building of damns and waterways, which can adversely affect the dolphins’ home range and prevent it from following fish populations. Studies suggest the pink river dolphin is also at risk from pollution, particularly caused by petroleum spills from nearby plants. As of 1994, IUCN has included the dolphin on its Red List of endangered species.
Pink river dolphins have rarely been kept in captivity, and as such do not have much public exposure. However, several conservation organizations have taken up the cause of protecting the species. If you would like to help maintain and protect the world’s largest freshwater dolphin, conservation societies are always in need of volunteers and donations. One excellent way to support protection efforts is to purchase an adopt-an-animal packet from a reputable organization. Currently, the World Wildlife Fund has pink river dolphin adoption packs including certificates and a plush stuffed dolphin of your very own.