The Pink Dolphin
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It is thought to be a way to hide from predators. Scientists are still arguing about how many species or subspecies of boto there are.
Journey of the Pink Dolphins
Some argue for the existence of a southern species in Bolivia, distinct from botos in more northerly Amazonian reaches. The Marine Mammal Society is not yet convinced of this proposed new species. If they wanted to they could rip those children apart because they are pretty big and they have pretty strong jaws.
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- An estimated 1,600 Amazonian pink river dolphins (botos) have been protected from illegal hunting.
Also an enigma is exactly how many botos there are in the Amazon's rivers. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists them as " data deficient ", but says they may be at risk in some parts of their range. One challenge to visually counting the numbers of these dolphins is that their riverine waters are often murky with silt.
So, what actually is a Pink Dolphin?
Botos do not exactly go out of their way to make scientific counts easy, either. Typically, "they just put the tip of their head out of the water", says Alves dos Santos. Even when seen at the water's surface, they lack the prominent dorsal fin used to photo-identify individuals in other dolphin species. Botos have a subtle ridge on their back, so it is still possible to "fingerprint" individuals using the unique pigmentation patterns, nicks, curves and wounds on its skin.
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But it is tricky. Their shy, elusive behaviour and the amount of time they spend underwater means that even the tally of dolphins counted from the same boat — some observers at the front, others at the back — does not always match. Paradoxically, though, some botos go out of their way to make themselves incredibly easy to spot. This can be seen at a market in the town of Mocajuba in Para State, Brazil.
There, botos play with local children taking a break from helping their family with sales at the market. The water is clear, and Alves dos Santos has seen the dolphin behaviour in detail. One of the fascinating things about this behaviour, he says, is the lack of aggression shown by the dolphins. But the botos do nothing of the sort. The children stroke and play with the dolphins almost every morning.
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Locals report that this interaction has been happening for 30 years. At the market, botos are always in groups, never alone. Alves dos Santos has discovered that some individuals come to the market repeatedly, year after year. Is that to take advantage of an unusual situation — humans feeding them scraps from the market — or are they in stable groups because they are close relatives? He hopes to find an answer by exploring the dolphins' family tree. Attracting dolphins with fish to take tiny tissue samples for his DNA family tree analysis, "you see how intelligent they are", says Alves dos Santos.
The dolphins are often assumed to be blind because their eyes are small. But they are not: instead they are curious, and "they look into your eyes". Although botos are difficult to visually count, there may be another way to work out how many individuals remain in the wild: recording their vocalisations.
Once thought to be a quiet species, botos turn out to be anything but. Rather like bat clicks, the clicks that make up the bulk of boto communications are inaudible to humans. Marie Trone of Florida's Valencia College, with two retired acousticians from the US Navy and two researchers at the University of Toulon in France, is studying individual differences in boto sounds. Clicks have been successfully used to distinguish between individual bats. Trone hopes to do the same for botos.
If the researchers can distinguish between the sounds of individuals, they might provide a useful tool for counting how many of these hard-to-see animals there really are. So far, their method shows promise. The Amazon river dolphin is seen as a competitor for diminished fish stocks and is often killed or injured when people try to chase them away. Mercury pollution from small-scale gold mining activities are one of the main threats to the Bolivian river dolphin, a subspecies of the Amazon river dolphin.
The mercury reaches dolphins through the food chain. They mainly eat catfish, which are bottom feeders greatly affected by metals like mercury in the water. WWF works to protect river dolphin habitat in the Amazon region and continues to support river dolphin surveys to help determine their status and vulnerability. WWF also supports research about the impact of dams on the size and dispersal of dolphin populations. Make a symbolic animal adoption to help save some of the world's most endangered animals from extinction and support WWF's conservation efforts. World Wildlife Fund 24th Street, N.
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Extinction fears for pink dolphin
WWF Toggle Nav v k. Amazon River Dolphin.
go site Adopt a Dolphin. Current status WWF offices in Bolivia, Brazil, and Colombia coordinated a tri-national effort to tag and study river dolphins, applying satellite GPS technology to the task for the first time.