The Amazing Amazon River Dolphin of Ecuador
Dolphins are generally associated with the sea, where they travel in large groups, frolicking in the surf. But there are, in fact, four species of dolphin that live in freshwater rivers and estuaries, of which arguably the most unusual in appearance is the Amazon River Dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) found in the Amazon, Orinoco, Araguaia and Tocantins river systems of Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela and Ecuador. Due to overfishing, pollution, waterway traffic and habitat loss, this unique pink dolphin has been placed on the ‘Endangered’ list by the IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The Amazon river dolphin is the largest of the cetacean order living in freshwater habitats. With an adult body length of between 1.53 to 2.4 meters, females are generally larger than males. Their unfused neck vertebrae enables them to turn their heads 180 degrees, which is important for the pink dolphins as the often need to navigate through flooded forest region with many obstacles. Their long beaks contain between 24 and 34 conical and molar-type teeth. The flexibility of their necks, together with their long beaks, allows Amazon river dolphins to gain access to prey fish hiding in submerged vegetation in flooded areas. When water levels return to normal, the dolphins live in the rivers and lakes where they feed on a variety of small underwater creatures, including fish, crabs, shrimp, and even small turtles.
Females reach sexual maturity by the time they have grown to around 1.7 meters in length, with males reaching sexual maturity at around 2 meters in length. The gestation period is between nine and twelve months, with most calves being born between July and September. At birth calves weigh around 15 pounds and are about 80 cm long. Both parents raise the young, which follow them closely for a number of months before becoming independent. It is not uncommon to see mother, father and two or more offspring together.
The Amazon river dolphin is interwoven with a number of traditional Amazon River folk tales, including that the dolphin is a shape-shifter called an encantado – enchanted one. It is also said to be the guardian of the fascinating Amazonian manatee, or sea cow. Certainly, the pink Amazon river dolphin is an interesting animal and worth keeping an eye out for when exploring the Amazon jungles of Ecuador.