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Amazon river dolphins are at great risk of extinction due to human activities

A recent study unveils the looming threats the Amazon river dolphins are facing from human activities such as fishing, dam construction, and river dredging.

These beautiful creatures, known for their friendly nature and distinct pink hue, have found their survival challenged due to human interferences in their habitats. Their species has lived in the the vast river systems of the Amazon and Orinoco for at least 15 million years.

In a collaborative effort between the University of Exeter and Peruvian conservation organization Pro Delphinus, researchers tracked eight Amazon river dolphins in the Peruvian Amazon via satellite tags.

Tracking the movements of Amazon river dolphins

The main focus of the study was to map out the dolphins’ movement patterns. They also measured their proximity to various fishing regions, as well as proposed dam and dredging sites.

The data revealed that a staggering 89% of the dolphins’ home range living area overlapped with fishing zones. In addition, the researchers located the dolphins an average of 156 miles away from the nearest proposed dam. The nearest intended dredging site is only 78 miles away.

Even though these distances seem substantial, one should note that a dolphin’s range can cover more than 30 miles. The effects of dam construction and dredging can impact long stretches of river habitats.

Moreover, many of these endangered Amazon river dolphins inhabit regions much closer to the proposed development sites, compared to the seven males and one female dolphins tagged in this research.

Struggling for survival against human activities

Dr. Elizabeth Campbell, a key researcher from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, warns, “It’s clear that the Amazon river dolphin is facing increasing threats from humans.”

Dr. Campbell elaborates that fishing practices can lead to a significant reduction in dolphin prey. These aquatic mammals are also at risk from intentional killing and accidental capture, known as bycatch.

She adds, “Bycatch has been known to be a threat to these dolphins for the last 30 years, but there’s no real data on how many dolphins are caught per year.”

The construction of dams is another expanding threat, primarily in Brazil. There are 175 dams currently operating or under construction in the Amazon basin. At least 428 more are planned for the next 30 years.

As if that wasn’t enough, they must now contend with the Amazon Waterway. This massive construction project, recently approved and contracted, involves dredging sites across the four main rivers of the Amazon basin.

Peruvian government must regulate human activities

However, researchers believe that the Peruvian government can counter these threats and preserve biodiversity.

Dr. Campbell urges, “Peru has a chance to preserve its free-flowing rivers, keeping them a safe and healthy habitat for river dolphins and many other species.”

She advises the government to consider the negative effects that these construction projects have already caused in other regions and to take preventive measures.

Dr. Campbell proposes expanding river dolphin tracking programs to improve understanding and conservation efforts.

She says, “River dolphin tracking programs should now be expanded to span multiple seasons, to track more females at our study sites and to increase the numbers tracked in other areas to improve our knowledge of the movement patterns of this species.”

The Amazon river dolphin, listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, is a vital part of the aquatic ecosystem of the Amazon and Orinoco basins.

This study was funded by the South American River Dolphin Initiative and WWF Peru. It shines a spotlight on the urgent need to protect these amazing dolphins from the damaging effects of human activities.

The team’s findings are published in the journal Oryx under the title, “Satellite-monitored movements of the Amazon River dolphin and considerations for their conservation.”

More about Amazon river dolphins

In the vast aquatic network of the Amazon and Orinoco basins, a unique creature swims with grace and agility—the Amazon river dolphin.

Also known as the boto or pink river dolphin due to its distinct hue, this freshwater mammal presents a captivating sight. However, beneath the charm of these pink-skinned creatures lies a distressing narrative about their struggle for survival.

Physical Features and Habitat

The Amazon river dolphin stands out as the largest of the river dolphins. Adults reach up to 8 feet in length and weigh between 185 and 355 pounds. Their most striking characteristic is their pink skin. This coloring intensifies in males with age due to accumulated scars from fights or interactions with other river objects.

These dolphins inhabit the murky waters of the Amazon and Orinoco river basins. They boast a long, sharp-toothed snout for snatching prey, and a flexible neck that allows them to navigate the intricate river systems efficiently.

History of the Amazon river dolphins

From a biological standpoint, the Amazon river dolphin belongs to a group of species that made a dramatic evolutionary shift millions of years ago.

Researchers believe that these dolphins descended from oceanic dolphins that migrated into freshwater habitats. Fossils found in the Amazon Basin suggest that river dolphins have inhabited the region for approximately 15 million years.

Throughout history, Amazon river dolphins have played a significant role in the myths and folklore of indigenous communities living near the Amazon River. Local legends often depict them as shape-shifters with supernatural abilities.

Some tales portray them as tricksters or enchanters who transform into handsome men to seduce women in local communities. Other legends believe that sighting these dolphins can bring luck or even magical powers.

Behavior and Diet

Amazon river dolphins are typically solitary, occasionally forming small groups. They display a playful and friendly nature, often interacting with humans. This attribute that has endeared them to local communities and tourists alike.

Their diet consists of a wide variety of fish, crustaceans, and sometimes small turtles. The dolphins’ flexible necks and sharp teeth allow them to hunt efficiently in the complex river environment.

Significant Threats to Amazon river dolphins

Despite their amicable nature, the Amazon river dolphins face significant threats from human activity. One of the primary threats is accidental capture in fishing nets or bycatch. The increase in commercial fishing in the Amazon River has escalated this risk significantly.

Habitat loss due to dam construction poses another significant threat. The construction of dams disrupts the natural flow of rivers. This interference alters the dolphins’ habitats and impacts their migration, feeding, and breeding patterns.

Pollution is also a critical concern. Industrial waste, agricultural runoff, and oil spills degrade the water quality of their habitats. This, in turn, creates serious health risks to the dolphins and their prey.

Conservation Status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the Amazon river dolphin as an endangered species. This status underscores the urgency to protect these unique creatures from the escalating threats they face.

Conservation Efforts

Recognizing the urgency, several conservation initiatives are underway to protect the Amazon river dolphins. Key efforts include establishing protected areas, implementing tighter fishing regulations, and banning the deliberate killing of dolphins.

Scientific research forms a vital part of these conservation strategies. As mentioned previously, researchers are using satellite tracking technologies to study the dolphins.

They are monitoring movements, feeding habits, and breeding patterns. This knowledge is critical for developing effective protection strategies and influencing policy decisions.

In addition, education and awareness campaigns are helping to inform local communities and the wider public about the importance of protecting these unique creatures and their habitats.


The Amazon river dolphin, with its distinctive pink skin and playful nature, is more than just a charming inhabitant of the Amazon River. It is a vital part of the river ecosystem.

As the threats to their survival escalate, the need for robust and effective conservation efforts becomes increasingly critical. Protecting these unique creatures requires a collective effort from governments, conservation organizations, local communities, and individuals.

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