Today I feature an incredible and mystical creature that I just recently saw, the Pink River Dolphin of the Amazon River. This mammal does not live in our rivers, but their relations, our resident Indian River Lagoon bottle-nosed dolphins do. I think the story of the pink river dolphins is a good one to share and may make us look at our IRL bottle-nosed dolphins a bit differently.
Except for a few people, here in the U.S., we “all love dolphins.” The TV show “Flipper” indoctrinated many of us. In fact until the late 1980s we liked dolphins so much we were still capturing them from the wild to put into theme parks…. thankfully, this practice was finally stopped after the implementation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Here dolphins are “protected.”
I have alway loved dolphins, but over recent years people like Nic Mader of Dolphin Ecology Project, and Nancy Beaver of Sunshine Wildlife Tours, have helped me to appreciate these very smart and adaptable mammals even more. Many scientists believe they are as intelligent or more intelligent than humans. They live in extended families and are territorial like people.
So when I was in South America just recently with my husband Ed, who was born in Argentina, I was stuck by the story of the Pink River Dolphin of Peru and wanted to share it with you today.
Here we go….
The life of the people in the Amazon River Basin is one that I would say none of us can comprehend as these people living along the river are totally self-sustainable. Their value is judged not by how much they “have” in material wealth, but in their ability to provide for their very close-knit families, and their ability TO ADAPT. The powerful and plentiful Amazon River can vary in water level by up to 45 feet! This means that when the river decides to change course, it can quickly erode away chunks of land and forest that are the entire size of the Town of Sewall’s Point. Gone….History….See ya!
–Giant Kapok trees and towering palms that stood only yesterday are suddenly floating down the river with your village or your lone school-house. Such is life and so it has been for thousands of years.
When this happens the people just “move back” into the jungle and adapt. They see it coming. Incredible. The river keeps you alive and it can kill you. The river gives; the river takes away.
From what I heard about 95 percent of the people’s diets, in the area we visited, are fish. They are a fishing society. But they do eat “bushmeat” from the jungle, and other things like birds, caiman, manatee, and monkeys. “Easy to judge,” and at first it was hard for me as an animal lover to “accept this,” but then—-I get my food from Publix.
Ed and I decided we would be dead in two weeks if we had to try to live off the land like these villagers. There is no way. We are not trained to do it. We are soft.
So the people eat what they need to survive but mostly fish.
Nonetheless, according to what Ed and I were told by the locals, there is one animal they do not eat. The Pink River Dolphin.
As a local tour guide explained: “Why don’t the people eat them? They don’t eat them because superstition is stronger than the law.”
According to what we were told, the people of the Amazon River in this area of Peru believe that the Pink River Dolphin is part human, or was so years ago ….they believe or have grown up hearing stories that there are cities under the muddy waters of the river that have developed from a people who once lived along the shoreline, like them, but who decided to move into the water….they also believe if you kill a pink river dolphin you will have very bad luck, and you will not be able to find the fish that sustain your family….the dolphin which are swimming around just about everywhere, show you where the fish are. They help you.
There was one legend, in fact, where a fisherman harpooned a pink river dolphin because it got caught in his net or “stole” one of his fish. When the fisherman was magically transported to a judgement hall under the water and he saw that the dolphin he had stabbed was actually human! He was mortified. The dolphin tribunal told the fisherman he could redeem himself if he returned to the surface and told all villagers the story of the underwater dolphin city and taught the people NOT to hurt the dolphins, but to honor them.
Stories such as these told through generations have protected this species.
The guide asked me if I thought the story could be true? First I laughed, and then after a while I started to wonder. This magical species who is related to our Indian River Lagoon bottle-nosed dolphins certainly is very special. They do seem kind of human-like….
Lima is Peru’s capitol city. In Lima’s airport, there is a giant mural on the wall. I was taken by the images and thought about the story of the pink river dolphin as I got ready to fly back home. Ed was yelling at me not to be late as I snapped away thinking about this incredible story of the pink river dolphin.
I have included some of the photos below.
—-Myths….stories….how we see the world….
Even though the human-dolphin story is “just a story” from the Amazon, I don’t think I will ever look at our bottle-nosed dolphins quite the same. 🙂
Pink River Dolphin: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_river_dolphin)