FISHERMEN IN AMAZON SEE A RIVAL IN DOLPHINS
GARAPÉ DO COSTA, Brazil — Along the rivers of the Amazon rain forest, people still recount legends in which pink dolphins are magical creatures that can turn into men and impregnate women. Brazilian musicians write songs about them, singing lovingly about the “eye of the river dolphin.”
But for Ronan Benício Rego, a fisherman in this tiny settlement, pink dolphins are both rival — and prey.
Standing on the muddy banks of the river here recently, he said he had killed river dolphins many times before, to use as bait to catch a catfish that is sold to unknowing consumers in Brazil and Colombia.
“We want to make money,” said Mr. Rego, 43, the president of the community here. Two dead dolphins could yield about $2,400 in catfish sales in a single day of fishing, he said.
But bait is not the only objective. Though the pink dolphins are protected by law, the fishermen see them as nettlesome competitors for the catches that feed their families, and their frustration sometimes boils over.
“I have harpooned some just to be mean,” Mr. Rego said, lifting a harpoon to demonstrate how he would spear dolphins at close range.
The illegal slaughtering of dolphins is on the rise here, threatening one of the storied symbols of the Amazon and illustrating the challenge of policing environmental law in such a vast territory, researchers and government officials say. Hundreds, if not thousands, of the estimated 30,000 river dolphins plying the Amazon region are dying every year, they say.
Miguel Miguéis, 41, a Portuguese researcher from the Federal University of Western Pará who studies river dolphin populations around the city of Santarém, said the high rate of killings could lead to their extinction. “They are killing their culture, their folklore,” Dr. Miguéis said. “They are killing the Amazon.”
Several hours upriver from here, in the biological reserve of Rio Trombetas, where river dolphins swim in an Amazon tributary teeming with piranhas and crocodiles, Dr. Miguéis said he had seen the dolphin population fall to a little over 50 earlier this year from about 250 in 2009.
“I am really worried about what is happening at the reserve,” Dr. Miguéis said.
Brazil’s environmental laws strictly prohibit the killing of dolphins and many other wild animals. Violators could face up to four years in prison. But enforcement in the vast Amazon is a huge challenge for Ibama, the Brazilian environmental protection agency, which has 1,300 agents covering the entire country. The Brazilian Amazon alone is larger than India.
Fishermen in Igarapé, about three hours by boat from Santarém, said agents from Ibama had never visited their community of about 350 people.
Luciano Evaristo, the director of environmental protection with Ibama, acknowledged a growing problem with the killing of river dolphins in the Amazon related to high demand in Colombia for the catfish, and he vowed to crack down on the practice.
Using dolphin meat as bait for the catfish “is horrible, and Ibama will stop this,” Mr. Evaristo said. “When Ibama gets there, many people will be arrested.”
Yet here in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, many people are indifferent about the killings. At an open-air market in Santarém, vendors sell genitals removed from dead dolphins as good luck charms for sex and love. Jars of oil from river dolphin fat sit alongside oil from anacondas and crocodiles. The dolphin oil potion, which sells for about $25 a small bottle, is used to treat rheumatism, a saleswoman explained.
At a Santarém fish market, customers said they had no idea fishermen were using dolphins to catch the catfish, known as piracatinga in Brazil. Still, they said protecting dolphins was not a priority.
“I would eat the fish if I knew it ate dolphins because the dolphins are healthy and come from the Amazon River,” said Teresa Oliveira, 67.
Local legends, dating to before Columbus arrived in the New World, have long warned Amazon residents to be respectful but wary of the river dolphins, which they believe have magical powers and can do evil.
“I always tell my daughters to stay away from the water during their menstrual cycle,” said Maria Siqueira, 59, who lives in Trombetas. “Just like my mother told me, I tell them the dolphin will impregnate them.”
Source: International Herald Tribune
PINK DOLPHINS BOUNCE BACK FROM 2010 AMAZON DROUGHT
Several months ago, parts of the Amazon rainforest were in the grip of one of the most severe droughts on record.
River levels were at historic lows and the impact on wildlife was severe.
The number of pink river dolphins in a remote part of the Peruvian Amazon dropped by nearly half in October compared with 2009, as the level of the Samiria River, a major tributary of the Amazon, fell.
Along a 20km (12 mile) stretch of the river, a population of 250 declined to about 140.
But now a team of conservation experts working in the region has found that many species have recovered more quickly than expected.
This includes the pink dolphins, which, according to surveys conducted in March, have seen their numbers increased by nearly 10%, compared to the same period last year, prior to the drought.
The number of grey dolphins is also up from March 2010 – by 30%.
“This is a very good sign and suggests that the Samiria River is recovering from the drought of 2010,” says Dr Richard Bodmer from the University of Kent, who has published extensively on the area for the last 25 years.
The research is being carried out in the Pacaya Samiria national reserve in the upper reaches of the Amazon, an area covering more than 20,000 sq km (700 sq miles).
It falls within one of the three regions worst affected by the 2010 drought, when parts of the Amazon and its tributaries reached their lowest levels for half a century.
“This reserve is a flooded forest, where we get high levels and low levels in the rivers every year,” says Dr Bodmer.
“But the 2010 drought and the record floods the previous year were much worse.”
Now the water levels are extremely high again and local officials have declared a state of emergency.
“We are being hit on both sides – extremely high levels of water or droughts,” says Dr Bodmer.
Dr Bodmer and his team of Peruvian researchers, backed up by volunteers from the conservation organisation Earthwatch, are monitoring the effect of these weather extremes on the pink dolphins and other wildlife.
Conservationists regard pink dolphins as a remarkable species – partly for their colour, which no-one can explain for sure.
But they are also the only species of dolphin able to move their neck horizontally as well as vertically. This enables them to find their way underwater between tree roots.
Several of them played around the boat when we visited a favourite spot of theirs on the River Samiria in late March.
You could glimpse sudden movements of pink, but it was easier to hear them than see them. They expel air loudly like old men with a smoker’s cough.
They are apparently curious and intelligent, like their distant cousins the sea dolphins. Between 10 million and 20 million years ago, their ancestors were trapped when this region of the Amazon formed part of a large inland sea area.
Other species appear to have recovered well, too, but the picture is not entirely positive.
Chestnut-fronted macaws had apparently left the reserve or died in significant numbers during the 2010 drought. The latest figures suggest their numbers have recovered strongly now that the rivers are back to high levels.
However, the spectacled caiman, a smaller relation of the crocodile, continues to be a cause for concern. Its numbers in the first three months of 2011 were still 60% lower than in 2010.
Several communities of Cocama Indians live on the river banks of the Samiria within the reserve. They are still talking about last year’s drought, and fear it may be repeated in the future.
Tedy Yuyarima, a 42-year-old shaman from San Martin de Tipishca, says the drought was the worst he has ever known.
“Our community depends on fish like the piranha both to eat and sell,” he says.
“During the drought it was very difficult to travel for several months because the river was so low. We had to push our boats through less than 20cm of water.”
The fish were left stranded in packed, rotting piles. The cormorants and other birds just picked out the best flesh and left the rest.
“We couldn’t eat the fish as they had infected abscesses,” says Mr Yuyarima.
The community is still worried the fish stocks may not build up again in 2011. But the early signs from Dr Bodmer’s team suggest that fish numbers are recovering.
The Cocama Indians are involved in projects to manage the forest in a sustainable way, but extreme weather makes this more difficult, says Mr Yuyarima.
A team of British and Brazilian researchers recently confirmed that the 2010 Amazon drought was more widespread than the one in 2005, which was regarded as “a once in a century event”.
The two droughts have been associated with warmer waters in the North Atlantic off the Brazilian coast, caused by warmer global temperatures.
Some computer models suggest that the Amazon could suffer more droughts as the planet warms.
“We cannot ignore these larger global events, which are impacting the local ecosystems and people here, and testing the resilience of the wildlife,” says Dr Bodmer.
“At the moment, these impacts worry me, but they are not as dramatic as they could be. But if these weather extremes continue in the future, this will change.”
Source: BBC News
PINK DOLPHINS ON THE REDBOUND
Dolphin lovers can breathe a sigh of relief. Pink dolphin populations in the Amazon River have rebounded after nearly half the population died last year during a severe drought. A drought can happen when an area receives no rain for a long period of time.
Pink dolphins are the largest species of river dolphin, growing to more than nine feet in length. They are the only species of dolphin that can turn their heads from side to side, allowing them to dodge underwater tree roots. Ranging in color from off-white to a rosy pink, they have humps on their backs instead of fins.
This rare species of dolphin lives only in rainforests in South America. Rainforests are forests that receive at least 68 inches of rainfall per year. The Amazon rainforest is the largest in the world and home to many rare plants and animals. The Amazon River is approximately 4,080 miles long and runs through the rainforest.
During the drought, water levels in the Samiria River (a river that flows into the Amazon) reached record lows, killing many fish. Without those fish to eat, the pink dolphins and other rare Amazon animals began to disappear.
Drought can be disastrous in the rainforest because many species there depend on high water levels. Because of the complex relationships between different animals, when one species is affected, many others are affected as well.
The drought finally ended this year, since the Amazon has had lots of rain. Conservationists, or people who work to protect the environment, believe the pink dolphin population has increased by 10 percent.
Dr. Richard Bodmer, a scientist studying the Amazon, is glad to see the dolphins thriving. “They are an important river species that tell us a lot about the health of the aquatic habitat in the river,” he said in a recent interview with the British newspaper Telegraph.
Other animals that seemed to vanish, like chestnut-fronted macaws, have also started to make a comeback. However, some animals have not yet recovered from the devastation wrought by the drought. For example, there are 60 percent fewer spectacled caimans, relatives of the crocodile, than last year.
The Amazon goes through dry periods and rainy periods, so another drought is always possible. However, the pink dolphins have managed to survive in spite of the challenges. Wendy Elliott from the World Wildlife Fund, a nonprofit organization, says of their survival: “River dolphins are really fascinating creatures that much of the world has overlooked. They manage to live in rivers where others couldn’t. They are very special.”
PINK DOLPHIN FACTS (Inia Geoffrensis)
There are five species of dolphins that make their homes in rivers, being the most popular of them the Pink Dolphins also known as Boto, Boutu or Amazon River dolphins as it inhabits the Amazon River.
The scientific name of the Pink Dolphins from the Amazon is Inia Geoffrensis and they belong to the genus Inea, part of the family Platanistoidea, which is conformed by the five species of river dolphins.
Pink dolphins are not the same dolphins that you would see in the ocean; they have special adaptations to their habitat. In fact, river dolphins are only distantly related to sea dolphins.
They belong taxonomically speaking to different families. The oceanic dolphins belong to the family delphinidae while river dolphins belong to the family Platanistoidea as we said above.
Among the five species of river dolphins, Amazon pink dolphins are considered the most intelligent of them, with a brain capacity 40% larger than that of humans.
Pink dolphins inhabit the Amazon River, but they can also be found in the Orinoco basins and the upper Madeira River as well. While they are mostly pink, these dolphins have various colored skins, which can be light gray, pink, or brown.
The Amazon River pink dolphins conform the largest population of river dolphins in existence as the other four species are functionally extinct or close to extinction.
The river dolphins are among the most endangered species of all the world’s cetaceans. Pink dolphins have been listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a “vulnerable species-threatened” and recently was moved to “endangered species-threatened”
These friendly and social creatures have been living for centuries in the Amazon and its tributaries, but the accelerated destruction of the Amazon basin have put them in a every time more dangerous situation.
The raise in contaminant levels of mercury have caused and increased number of deaths among pink dolphins, especially near gold mines where mercury is used as part of the gold mining process.
The increase of traffic in the Amazon River, also threatens these creatures as they are curious by nature and they sometime approach to vessels where they are easily hurt by the sharp propellers.
Additionally, the noise produced by engines and motors and the sound pollution caused by them, has been considered to produce a disorienting phenomenon in their navigations systems, causing the death of many pink dolphins.
What do Pink Dolphins Eat?
Pink dolphins eat crabs, catfish, small river fish and even small turtles.
As crabs and turtles have to be catch mainly at the bottom of the river, pink dolphins spend a lot of time while swimming looking at the bottom of the river for food.
The boto cervical vertebrae are not fused allowing them to move their head up to 180 degrees, which is a great help for hunting in shallow waters and floodplains.
Hunting fish require some techniques like herding, where they round a fish pod to concentrate fish and take turns for feeding. This procedure is largely used by their oceanic cousins.
Physical Description of Pink Dolphins
Pink dolphins can be found in pink, light gray or brown colors but there is not conclusive evidence of the reason why pink dolphins are pink.
It could be an adaptation to the river life or caused by the presence of capillaries near the surface of the skin what provide them such impressive color. Additionally, pink dolphins get pinker when they are excited or surprised, resembling blushing in humans.
The Amazon River dolphin is between six and eight feet long, and weighs between 185 and 355 pounds when it is fully grown.
River dolphins are typically smaller than sea dolphins but they have longer snouts, an adaptation provided by evolution, which is needed to hunt at the bottom of the river. River dolphins also tend to have more pointy teeth than sea dolphins.
Most species of river dolphins are almost blind, due to navigating muddy waters, but their brains are extremely large and well developed, however pink dolphins are considered to have a relatively good sight.
Unlike sea dolphins, river dolphins have what resembles fingers on the ends of their flippers, and their dorsal fins are much smaller than that of sea dolphins or even have humpbacks instead of dorsal fins like the pink river dolphin.
Behavior of Pink Dolphins
Pink dolphins appear to be the friendliest of all the river dolphins when approaching to humans and some stories of people being pushed to the shores by them are common among some tribes in the Amazon.
They swim up to 30 kilometers in one day, although they usually swim slowly looking for food at the bottom of the river.
How do Pink Dolphins Reproduce?
Males and Females mate to start a gestation period which is believed to last from nine to twelve months. Copulation is performed between males and females belly to belly.
Calves are born about 75 cm long and weighing a bit more than 1 Kg.
Pink dolphins deliver their babies when the Amazon River is at its high between the months of May and July.
Pink Dolphin Conservation
The World Conservation Union, also known as International Union for the conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) is an international organization based in Gland, Switzerland, devoted to the conservation of natural resources.
It was founded in 1948 and groups 83 states, 108 governmental agencies and more than 10,000 scientists and experts from countries around the world.
The IUCN publishes a red list of threatened species which is a reference in the field and the base for conservation of species.