Pink Dolphins

Pink dolphins are not made-up creatures, even though they might sound like they are. These distinctive-looking animals are one of five species of dolphins found in fresh water; they make their home in the Amazon from Venezuela to Brazil . In Peru, the locals call the pink river dolphin the Buefo Colorado; they're called botos in Brazil, and the official scientific name is Inia geoffrensis. Whatever you call them, it's quite amazing to see these dolphins in person.

As one of the most biologically diverse places on earth, the Amazon River is home to some incredible creatures. The collection of Amazon River animals includes the elegant jaguar, languid sloth, and the odd-looking mammal with a long nose called the tapir. The same waters that provide a home for the Amazon pink dolphins support a rainbow's worth of fish, including the fierce piranha. The pink dolphins are one of two species of dolphins that live in this rainforest river flowing through South America.

Scientists who have studied the pink river dolphin quickly discovered how intelligent these water-dwelling mammals really are. Throughout history, dolphins have been pretty famous for their smarts, but these pink-hued dolphins are even smarter than the rest. With a brain 40 percent bigger than a human brain, it's no wonder Amazon pink dolphins are so smart. Of course, scientists also wanted to know what makes the dolphins turn pink. Their color comes from capillaries near the skin as well as a number of other factors including water temperature, the iron content of the water, and the age of the particular dolphin.

The Amazon pink dolphins you'll see on river tours in Brazil look similar to their gray-hued cousins, but they are a bit bigger than the average dolphin at eight to nine feet long. You won't find a dorsal fin the back of these pink dolphins, but rather a hump south of their melon-shaped head. They also have the rare ability to turn their heads 180 degrees, since the bones in their neck are not fused. This comes in handy when the dolphins are navigating their way through the narrow tributaries of the mighty Amazon.

Considered endangered, but not critically so, the pink dolphins serve as ambassadors to the rain forest at a few zoos around the world. If you want to see these amazing creatures up close, it's best to book one of the Amazon tours that cruise the river. Many of these boat tours begin and end in the city of Manus, which is considered the gateway to the interior of Brazil's Amazon region. The traditional cruise lasts a week aboard one of the well-equipped riverboats, and usually includes a tour of Manaus with its lovely Opera House.

A typical itinerary includes stops along the way to explore the Amazon on land and by kayak. The friendly and curious pink river dolphin might even swim up and check out the people on the kayak. You'll want to bring your camera along.

Many of the suggested itineraries include overnight stays at rain forest lodges. The locals can fill you in on the best place to find the pink river dolphin and some of the legends passed down over the generations.

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