Amazon Pink Dolphins: Characteristics, habitat, threats and more

The Amazon Pink Dolphins, are freshwater dolphins with a prominent forehead, very small eyes and, and unlike the sea dolphins, their dorsal fin is elongated and flat.

amazon pink dolphins: beautiful creatures

They are also known as boto, bofeo or toninas, but there are also gray specimens of this species. The Amazon Pink Dolphins, belong to the Platanisdae family and the genus Inia ,  being the only known member of such genus.  However, there are undergoing studies about this species. Their  scientific is Inia geoffrensis, and theyare different than the Dolphins of  Sea, The Amazon pink dolphin is considered quite intelligent,  and its brain capacity reaches up to 40% more than that of the common human being.

Main Characteristics Of The Amazon Pink Dolphins

These creatures are considered one of the largest river dolphins, since they reach up to 2.5 meters in length, in the case of males and an average weight of up to 184 kg. The  females´ weight and length  don´t  vary  very  much in consideration to that of the male, and it fluctuates around 150kg. Moreover  she  can measure up to  2.9 meters. Despite their names, The Amazon pink dolphins´ colors vary along time, from gray at birth to their characteristic pink color when they reach mature age. A curious fact is that the pink color is more accentuated in males than in females They have a prominent head which they can turn 180 degrees, since they lack of  cervical vertebrae.

These dolphins have small eyes, a very prominent long snout, and more than 100 teeth; being the front ones pointed, and the remaining ones flattened and grouped together. They employ both groups of teeth to grab and tighten their prey strongly, until they crush them.

The Amazon pink dolphins breathe every 110 seconds and after that they expel wide jets of water through their hole in the dorsal part. Small fragments of hair can be observed on their skin, which improve their sense of touch, being able this way to hunt their prey more easily. They have this feature on their skin and maintain it until they reach the adult stage.

The lateral fins of these dolphins are large, compared to the size of their bodies; they also curve backwards. This fact makes a contrast, with their small dorsal fin in the form of a prominence Most of Amazon Pink Dolphins are blind or almost blind, mainly because of the murky waters where they swim, which decreases their visibility over the years.

Common Behavior Of The Amazon Pink Dolphins

The toninasare considered very kind, especially when they are in the presence of human beings. Another distinctive characteristic of their behavior is given by the fact that they don´t live in big groups like other types of fish or cetaceans.  Males are usually alone or with a maximum of 5 dolphins, while it is more frequent to see the females with their offspring in this type of groups.

It is somewhat a slow swimmer that reaches a maximum speed of up to 22 km / h, although at the time of hunting is able to swim at a speed of 30 km / h for long periods of time.  They don´t   usually jump out of the water like other dolphins do since  when they emerge they float their snout, dorsal fin and later their tail. They tend to swim in pairs although they can also make up groups of up to 20 individuals. During mating, they swim with their belly towards the surface and very close to the river bank; although this depends on the level of the water in which they swim.

Their relationship with humans is very good, they are friendly and very playful, and they usually approach without problem to contact them, especially with those who move in small boats.

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Communication Methods Of The Amazon Dolphins

This species employs a series of sounds or whistles that are very similar to those of the sea dolphins. They employ such whistles as their main method of communication.

The Amazon pink dolphins tend to beat their tails; hitting the water hard when they are following their prey.  This method is useful to alert the others dolphins, about the presence of any fish or any danger The pink dolphin jumps performing a sort of pirouettes in the water, when they are in the reproductive stage, in order to call the attention of the female and then proceed to submerge again in the river.

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Subspecies of the Amazon pink dolphin

For a long time the Amazon pink dolphin was considered unique in its genre; however according to recent researches there are 3 subspecies, of which at least 2 are already confirmed and the third is still in the study stage.

Inia geoffrensis.

It is found in the Amazon on large river basins;  such as the xingu and madeira rivers

Inia geoffrensis

Inia geoffrensis humboldtiana.

They are found in the basin of the Orinoco Rive including the Apure and Meta Rivers.

Inia boliviensis.

It is a species which is commonly found in the Madeira River of Bolivia. This species is not yet listed as a subspecies of the amazon pink dolphin, however many people speculate that they belong to the same family.


The Amazon pink dolphin, is scattered  throughout  the main ramifications;  canals  and water  falls, of the Amazon River,  Orinoco River and the Madeira River in Bolivia.

The drastic changes in the mouths  of rivers,  during the various seasons of rain and drought , usually affect and determine,  the areas they occupy and the availability of food they may have, in such rivers.

During the dry season, they are usually located in the wide river beds ,  since in the smaller water spaces, it is very difficult for them to hunt.

In the rainy seasons it is easier for them to move, and they also have more opportunities to hunt their prey, since they can reach large areas of the jungle and flooded plains.

They are able to live in the waters, and also in the large quantities of flooded forest during the rainy season.

They can also be found in small lake formations that connect with rivers, waterfalls or prominent waterfalls at the mouths of rivers.

It must be taken into account that there is a difference in the habitat preference between males and females; in the case of males they prefer to return to the main channels of the rivers, even when they are still high; while the females and their offspring remain in the most flooded areas for a long time.

This behavior allows females and their baby dolphins, to lactate with more tranquility and dedication and have a better rest.  It also reduces the risk of aggression that may occur between males and small offspring as well as the predation of other species.

Distribution of the Amazon Pink Dolphin

This species is commonly found throughout the Amazon River, and most of its derivations, which are distributed along the countries of Peru, Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador. The following rivers can also be listed: Tocantins, Orinoco, Araguaia, Xingu, Tapajos, Madeira, Purus, Jurua, Ica , Japura, Bronco, Negro River, Bronco, Ucayali, Maranon, Napo, Cuyabeno, Caquetá and Putumayo.

All of them belong to 6 countries of South America that represent the seven million kilometers of reach that the Amazon River possesses.  Their accurate distribution depends on the time of the year.

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 Amazon Pink Dolphins Population

The accurate population of this species has been difficult to calculate, since different methods have been applied in  different areas, of the rivers they inhabit.

However, and according to the most reliable and recent  statistics,  the population of these dolphins, must be around 350 individuals.


Alimentation Habits of the Amazon Pink Dolphins

These dolphins are very skilled hunters, and their diet consists of 50 different species, including crabs catfish, small river fish and turtles, among their most common preys. In the case of crabs and turtles, they spend most of the time in lower waters, forcing the Amazon pink dolphins to keep swimming at the bottom of the river to capture them.

The Amazon pink dolphins follow their prey and hunt them, among many ones of them. This method is quite similar to that of the bottlenose dolphins or sea dolphins, and requires a huge ability. They usually feed themselves and do not distinguish between day and night to hunt, although according to the experts the best time for them to perform this activity is at dawn and late in the afternoon.

They are usually located very close to the waterfalls and the large mouths of rivers that is where the different species of fish settle down. They benefit in some opportunities, from the water disturbances caused by the boats to catch their prey. Moreover, It is uncommon to see them associated with otters

Reproduction Of The Amazon Pink Dolphins

The males and the females mate to begin their gestation period that usually lasts between 9 and 12 months. The copulation  is carried out  when both join their bellies.  They usually give birth between  May and July. The females usually reach sexual maturity between six or seven years of life, while  males last a little longer.  According to the specialists, the dry season is the most frequent period in which the Amazon pink dolphin begins their  reproduction process  since in this season the water levels in the rivers are still low.

Baby river dolphin in a wombThe Amazon pink dolphin in captivity, carry out a kind of courtship between them prior to the copulation . The males begin such game by nibbling the females’ fins, looking for her to be receptive and not to act in an aggressive way. The experts indicate the importance of the previous game carried out by couples in captivity, since at the moment of the mating they manage to do it without any type of inconveniences.

The arrival of the newborn pink dolphins occurs in times of flooding, because as we have mentioned before, the female likes to stay in places where there are calmer and flooded waters, this allows the offspring to develop the necessary energy to for their growth.

At the time of birth the young can measure up to 80 cm long, both in the jungle and in captivity, and the lactation period is predicted to last a year or a little longer. This fact makes the mother and child bond even stronger, since most of the groups of Amazon pink dolphins are made up only with them


The life expectancy of the Amazon pink dolphins is unknown by scientists although many of them speculate that it can vary between 15 and 25 years. Although it is still unknown in a really estimated time,many specialist agree that their life time will always depend on the conditions in which they are developing, if it is in their natural habitat is estimated to last between 10 and 30 years at most. On the other hand the have the same life expectancy when they live in captivity.

 Amazon Pink  Dolphins Main Threats

These creatures are in danger of extinction, due to the accelerated destruction of their habitat. It is believed that at least 50% of the population this species has decreased in the last 10 years, due to the occupation of the areas where they live, which strongly affects their life quality. The high levels of pollution in the Amazon River, have increased the number of deaths of this species, especially those that inhabit near gold mines where large amounts of mercury are employed to extract it. Moreover big amount of pesticides are employed in agriculture, with heavy metals such as the mercury used in gold mines to separate gold from stone.

Different Studies carried out in several rivers and populations such as those of the Madera River in Brazil, show that the mercury levels  in such rivers is above the permissible limit, which constitutes a great threat to this species that is at the top of the chain food.

Hunting as a Threat

In the past this species was protected by the local fishermen river, however this situation has changed, and they are hunted to trade their eyes. The dolphins fight strongly to avoid being captured, breaking in some occasion the fishing nets. As a result the fishermen even shot them  trying  to kill them.

The hunt of this species has also increased, since its meat is employed as bait to catch certain fish, such as speck or piracatinga, among other species. Their fat  is also used also as an effective traditional remedy against respiratory and lung diseases, and  their teeth are employed as an amulet against bad luck and as a sexual attraction. There are sorcerers or who use different parts such as the genitals and eyes for different purposes, although this is very little practiced.

Accidental Captures

This is a less harmful or less dangerous process for this species, and occurs when fishermen accidentally attack them with their nets when they are hunting for another species.

The Hydroelectric plants that have recently been installed near their habitat also negatively affect these cetaceans..

Degradation of their natural habitat.

This   situation is expanding little by little during the thousands of kilometers that the Amazon river has.  The presence of the communities made by human beings,  entails an increase in the agricultural production, livestock and deforestation, that brings as a consequence, a decrease in the supply of food for these dolphins. The deforestation in the areas of more flood by the wood exploitation industry, affects the river ecosystem as a whole, causing a reduction in the amounts of fish, and others species these dolphins feed on.

The exploitation of oil is also a threat to this species, the oil spills has resulted in many losses in their habitat not only of the pink dolphins of the Amazon but other species.

Natural Predators

Although in particular there is no constant predator of the Amazon pink dolphin, it has been known that the black alligator, the bull shark, the anaconda and the jaguar could eventually be the natural predators of this creature.

By the characteristics of the bites that have been in found in some specimens, the experts speculate that they can be attributed to catfish although no theory has yet been proven.

Preservation Of  The Amazon Pink Dolphins.

Since these dolphins are considered and endangered species, many campaigns have been carried out for their preservation.

As we have previously mentioned, the main threat that they face is given by the populations  that have been settled around their habitat

In this sense, the protection campaigns were focused on guaranteeing both the preservation of their habitat and the conservation of the species.

The structures of the existing human populations were studied, in order to know better the way they affected the echo system. It was also created the documentation of the amount of species per zone or kilometers of rivers traveled, as well as all potential threats generated by the new industries that work in the area.

The campaign was also focused in making the fishermen aware, about Illegal hunting of this species and all the risks it may bring.

Behavior  Of Pink Dolphins in Captivity.

For many years the amazon pink dolphins were captured by many aquariums to place them in captivity.   The behavior of the dolphins in this condition has been studied, resulting in the conclusion that these creatures are quite fragile in this type of environment.

Their behavior is less versatile than in their natural habitat, and the way in which they reproduce is a little rigid and different.

The females tend to be more aggressive, so they are separated from the males until the moment in which the reproduction is made.

According to the experts, there is a previous courtship between both of them for several months before procreating. The number of years they can live in captivity varies depending on the area where they are. The specimens that were sent to aquariums in Europe only were able to survive for 10 years, while those that have been bred in Latin American areas have managed to live between 15 and 20 years.

The death of this species is mainly produced by small abscesses in the fins and tail of the dolphin that spread an infection throughout the body to take them to death. It is speculated that this type of infections are because of not being in the natural conditions they require, and that the care of their skin is deeper than they really need.

The Myth Of The Amazon Pink Dolphins.

Within the areas where this species inhabit, there are different versions about the myth of this dolphin. There are also  many speculations about it and many contradictory versions of this unique story.

According to the story there was a young Indian who was an excellent warrior; one of his gods evidencing the qualities that this young man had and full of envy,  condemn him to live among the lakes and rivers of the whole Amazon locked in a dolphin body for the rest of his life.

From that moment this magnificent animal has been a great attraction for all the inhabitants, especially when they celebrate local parties of ancestral traditions. They have taken as a habit, at least the men, to disguise themselves in pink dolphins and dance during the night.

Another myth tell  that women in their days of menstruation and under the full moon, get into the rivers to bathe or take a canoe ride for them, which inevitably causes them to get pregnant by the dolphin.

This is a myth that has been taken so seriously in various regions; that the paternity of some children who do not have a father has been attributed to these dolphins.

The Amazon pink dolphins have  shown that they are are as real as dolphins in the sea, and their color makes them stand out among all other species.

As long as these initiatives are carried out; we can still  be hopeful about our environment

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