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Pink River Dolphins: Facts & Habitat

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

The pink river dolphin is a freshwater dolphin species found in South America. Their vivid pink color is only one of many cool things about them. Keep reading to learn what makes this species so unique.

Pink River Dolphins

Dolphins are one of the most beloved aquatic animals on Earth; however, most people usually think about the dolphins that live in the ocean. Pink river dolphins (species Inia geoffrensis) are one of only three freshwater dolphin species in the world, and they're also the largest. Though aptly named due to their pink color, they may also be called Amazon River dolphins or boto dolphins. As you can probably guess from their name, they're found in the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers in South America.

A pink river dolphin photographed in the wild.
pink river dolphin

You might have noticed that the dolphin in that picture only has a slight pink tint to it. Good eye! The intensity of the pink coloration is related to the type and clarity of the river water (water varies in clarity based on chemical composition and floating particulates). The darker or cloudier the water is, the pinker the dolphin's color is. Why? Well, clearer water allows the sun's rays to penetrate farther below the surface, thereby fading the dolphin's hue over time!

Pink river dolphins can grow to 9.5 feet in total length, and they can weigh up to 350 pounds. They have poor vision but make up for it with excellent sonar capabilities. They're also one of the only dolphin species that can turn their head from side to side - you may have never noticed, but most dolphin species can't actually turn their neck back and forth.

This species is also an exceptional swimmer in fast-current water because individuals can paddle their fins in opposite directions, making for great maneuverability.

Habitat

We already know that the pink river dolphin lives in freshwater rivers in South America. Specifically, they are found in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Venezuela. They spend most of their time in lowland portions of the river and in reservoirs, lakes, and seasonally flooded forests.

Luckily, their habitat isn't usually limited by food availability, since they eat fish, turtles, and crabs. That said, their habitat is limited by human impacts on the environment. Dams and irrigation structures break up the river and can physically block the dolphins from migrating upstream. Unfortunately, this can affect population growth by limiting access to breeding sites.

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