The Elusive Pink Beings Beneath the Surface of the Amazon

Submerged within the murky waters of the Amazon River are large pink beings. They exist as elusive beasts, only revealing hints of a reduced dorsal […]

Submerged within the murky waters of the Amazon River are large pink beings. They exist as elusive beasts, only revealing hints of a reduced dorsal fin and a melon-sized head as their 2.5 metre bodies struggle to breach out of the water. On the rare occasion when one fully breaches the water; they are likely to appear even stranger and dinosaur-like then before. Their body, I thought, could only be described as the inside of a fish. Being fleshy pink and with ribs vividly pointing out, you may feel as though you are looking at the inside rather than the outside of this Pink River Dolphin.

The presence of these creatures comes with no wonder that they are riddled with legends and myths. One story involves the Pink River Dolphin mounting onto land where it shape shifts into your knight in shining armour kind of guy, the girl is helpless to his charming ways and later a round belly bearing this illegitimate child arises. Whether the story was created by the very girls attempting to hide their incestuous relationships in these small villages- I’ll leave for you to decide. Regardless of this devious image created for these dolphins, they are in fact highly regarded in the Amazonia communities. It is bad luck to kill a dolphin, and in one community a dolphin was given a human burial when accidently caught in a fishing net.

Perhaps a reason why these mammals looks so strange and prehistoric to us is quite simply, because they are. The dolphins have been highly adapted to life in the Amazon for around 15 million years. They evolved with the Amazon, and some scientists believe they were there even before the Andes.

When rivers annually overflow and the forest becomes a submerged trap of vines and roots, these dolphins can travel for miles inside. Their unfused neck vertebrae allow them to turn their head 90°, this combined with a small dorsal fin and flippers which can move in a circular motion gives these dolphins a manoeuvrability any high end car wishes to boast. Yet how can the dolphins even exploit these features when the sedimented waters give limited visibility? For these dolphins it’s easy, they are able to distinguish objects as small as a pin using echolocation with a higher frequency and resolution than any other dolphin. Feeding therefore becomes just as simple, with a long snout fish can easily be extracted from holes in trees and the thick brambles which fill the flooded forest. And so there is a slow unravelling and realisation that whilst this species may appear odd they really are the big mammas on the evolution front.

Why pink, you may ask? Some scientists see it as an adaptation to river life; that being pink is an advantage- the advantage of course is not known; however the fact Grey River Dolphins can also appear pink may reveal some truth in the statement. Others give it a more practical reason. That the pink is just due to the presence of capillaries near the surface of the skin, and so perhaps a by-product of a different adaptation. For example it is known that when we are hot our capillaries expand near the surface of the skin, this is why we appear red, and so perhaps in the constant heat of the Amazon it is an advantage to have capillaries near the surface.

You may also ask, why pinker? Observations have revealed that these dolphins become pinker when they are excited or surprised. And so this apparent prehistoric, dinosaur-like creature now appears to have features resembling the blushing of humans.

It is not only the appearance of these dolphins which needs explaining but also the behaviour. Removing humans from the equation it used to be only chimpanzees which use objects to attract a mate. Yet now with a combination of observation and recorded data we can be sure to add the Pink River Dolphins to the list. This incredible behaviour involves predominantly adult males taking sticks, branches and clumps of grass/ clay into their mouth and immerging out of the water with them. On coming out of the water they will either slowly rise above the surface or thrash their object violently around. Observations of them spinning round has also been seen. Due to the behaviour being with predominantly adult males and correlating with the mating season and the presence of females we can be fairly sure that this is to attract a potential mate.

Moving to the opposite side of the spectrum, sadistic dolphins have also been witnessed. Here egrets perching on floating vegetation have been pulled down by these dolphins. Rather than perhaps broadening the dolphins’ dietary plan the egrets are simply drowned then left. An investigation as to why this occurs still awaits the ever-growing paranoid egrets.

The Pink River Dolphins really do boast an evolutionary highlight. Their complex characteristics while causing wide eyes in our direction, allow the Pink River Dolphins to exploit their habitat to the fullest. Being so successful seems to have allowed time to develop unbelievable courtship methods, alas with a minor scary undertone in terms of the egrets. Even so, it comes as no wonder why the local Amazonia people looked upon these creatures and saw magic and mystery within them.

About Julia Galbenu

Studying Biology at Oxford University.