Swimming with pink dolphins in the Amazon river

The Amazon river dolphin, also known as the pink river dolphin or ‘boto’, only lives in freshwater. It is relatively abundant with an estimated population in the tens of thousands, but is classified as vulnerable in certain areas due to dams that fragment or threaten certain populations, and other threats such as contaminated rivers and lakes. This dolphin is seen as a competitor for fish stocks and is often killed or injured when people try to chase them away.

The pink river dolphins come in all different shades; the murkier the water that the dolphin lives in the pinker it will be, as the sun’s rays cause them to lose their pigmentation. This river dolphin is able to move its head from side to side and to paddle forward with one flipper while the other paddles backwards. These unique traits allow them to manoeuvre when the river floods and they find themselves swimming through the forest and navigate around trees to hunt for prey.

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We cut the engines and float in the skiffs on the black water lake as we watch the dolphins playing. I am trying to get a photograph of these incredibly agile creatures as they leap out of the water but they are far too fast for me. The combination of their speed and the movement of the skiff on the water results in most of my photographs being of either the water or the sky. I decide to give up and take a photograph instead of the lake and the trees in the background. Just as the camera shutter clicks a grey river dolphin leaps right in the middle of my shot. I figure that the dolphin must have taken pity on me after watching me struggle for so long.

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A few locals approach the skiffs and invite us to paddle across the lake with them in their dugout canoes. I join a mother and son in theirs. They speak Spanish, but the young boy is learning English at school, as well as the local dialect of Quechua. The boy is quite shy but the mother is eager to tell me that he goes to school and how well he is progressing in English.

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When we reach the other side of the lake we dive in for a swim. As we are swimming a pod of dolphins plays nearby. Apart from us and the dolphins there is nothing else around us. The water is so dark that I cannot see anything under the surface but I am told that the lake is very deep. The engines of the skiffs are switched off and we can hear the birds in the trees nearby. I float in the black water lake enjoying every bit of the magical experience.

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