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Dead sperm whale in The Wash, East Anglia, England. © CSIP-ZSL.

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Risso's dolphin © Andy Knight

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Pilot whales pooing © Christopher Swann

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A spinner dolphin leaping © Andrew Sutton/Eco2

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Sperm whale (physeter macrocephalus) Gulf of California. The tail of a sperm whale.

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WDC team at UN Ocean conference

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I'm looking out over the River Tejo in Lisbon, Portugal, reflecting on the astounding resilience...

Meet the legendary pink river dolphins

Botos don’t look or live like other dolphins. Flamingo-pink all over with super-skinny snouts and chubby cheeks, they certainly stand out in a crowd. And they never set a flipper in the ocean – home is the fresh, flowing waters of three mighty South American river basins: the Amazon, Orinoco and Tocantins-Araguaia. The botos’ magnificent realm encompasses emerald rainforests, grasslands, rivers and lakes festooned with floating water hyacinths and giant lily pads, with ever-shifting islands and beaches.

Boto in flooded forest

They share their dynamic underwater world with Amazon manatees, giant otters, crocodiles, anacondas, turtles and a mind-boggling array of weird and wonderful fish. Wet season rains bring a rise in the water level and rivers spill their banks, flooding huge swathes of rainforest and offering a world of increased opportunity for botos.

These agile, dexterous swimmers weave comfortably around the trees below the glorious rainforest canopy. Botos’ echolocation skills are tip-top and they can bend their necks to move their heads in all directions. They waste no time finding a smorgasbord of prey hiding in the tangle of submerged trees and vines.

Shapeshifting legend

Amazon legends feature botos as enchanted shapeshifters or ‘encantados’. These magical beings live as dolphins in underwater kingdoms by day and morph into attractive young men at night when they leave the river to dance and seduce girls. Charming encantados disguise their identity by wearing colourful clothes and a hat over their blowhole, and they always return to the river before morning. Concerned parents warn their daughters not to be deceived by these shapeshifters gatecrashing parties.

Boto Fernando Trujillo

These remarkable dolphins are endangered. Please help us protect them.

Human threat

So why are botos endangered? In a word … humans. People hunt botos and use their dead bodies as bait to catch carnivorous fish. Botos die in fishing nets, are poisoned by mercury used to extract gold, and suffer habitat loss due to dam building and logging. No wonder boto numbers are declining.

What is WDC doing?

WDC has been at the forefront of river dolphin conservation for nearly 30 years. We have focused on working with local organisations and communities with education playing a vital role in our efforts.

Colombia

We support ‘Natütama’, an Indigenous Ticuna Indian community conservation project based in the Colombian Amazon.  Natütama works closely with the community and encourages their involvement and support for wildlife conservation efforts. The Ticuna educators regularly visit school classes and work with fishermen and hunters to reduce threats to wildlife and conserve the Amazon ecosystem for future generations and wildlife alike. They monitor river dolphin and other local wildlife populations and address problems and conflicts that arise.

Natutama children's parade
Natutama children's parade

Bolivia

WDC supports Bolivian biologist, Dr Enzo Aliaga-Rossel and his team to protect and conserve the river dolphins who are known locally as bufeos. Thanks to Enzo’s efforts the government has declared that bufeos are part of Bolivia’s national natural heritage.

Bufeos are the only dolphins living in land-locked Bolivia; they are threatened by deliberate killing by humans, accidental entanglement in fishing nets, and habitat degradation due to the unregulated development of industries and construction of hydro-electric dams.

Enzo works with rural indigenous communities and local government authorities running educational programmes to promote understanding of and positive attitudes towards bufeos.  He provides training for Park Rangers and wildlife watching operators so that they can support bufeo conservation and habitat protection.

Peru

WDC supports Solinia, an Amazon River dolphin conservation project in Iquitos, a huge Peruvian city on the banks of the Amazon River.  Solinia’s team works in schools teaching children about the river dolphins, and how as mammals, they have much in common with humans. They also explain how important the dolphins are in the river ecosystem and how everyone can help protect river dolphins and all river life by reducing litter and plastics and other pollution getting into the water.

We can make sure these remarkable dolphins survive and thrive in their unique habitat, but it will take a joined-up effort from communities, politicians, NGOs and scientists.

Did you know? 

  • Baby botos are bluish-grey and get pinker with age. Mothers have one baby at a time so they can keep them close, nurse them and teach them life skills by example
  • Botos are the only dolphins to have molar teeth at the back of their mouths for crunching up their food before swallowing it. They tuck into a varied freshwater diet of more than 40 species of fish, shrimps, crabs and turtles
  • Botos are also known as boutos, bufeos, Inia and pink river dolphins
  • The biggest river dolphins, botos can grow to almost 3m long
  • Botos can swim upside down, backwards and pivot on the spot

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