Stories from the Amazon

  • Pink dolphins in the Amazon River
    Pink dolphins are one of the most interesting creatures of the Amazon region.

    Jacobs Takes a Side Trip to Get an Up Close Experience with Pink Dolphins

    “There is a woman who feeds the pink dolphins who has a house on the river,” said Galia Ely de Mattos, a scientist at the IMPA (Amazon Research Institute) in Manaus, Brazil.

    The pink dolphins are one of the most interesting creatures of the Amazon region and can be a sentinel for the health of the Amazon. A healthy ecosystem has dolphins.

    Also known as the Amazon River dolphin, these intelligent creatures can weigh up to 200 pounds. It is believed they live between 15-17 years, although that is not known for sure. Their brain is 40 percent larger than humans, and their coloring is still a mystery. They are almost blind and use sonar to navigate or hunt in the murky river waters.

    Once thought to have magical powers to be able to take the shape of a human during the day, they have lost much of this local mysticism. Although illegal to kill, the number of these animals is decreasing because of hunting and habitat loss. Their only predators are humans.

    “Recently, people have started killing dolphins to use as bait to catch fish. They put the dead dolphin in a wooden crate, which then fills up with a type of catfish that feeds on carcasses. It’s illegal, so the retail stores changed the name ‘catfish’ to get around that,” de Mattos explained.

    An IMPA graduate assistant recently wrote a paper based on findings that showed if the current killing rate continues, the river dolphin could become extinct in 10 years.

    “Feeding wild animals is nothing we would ever recommend, but if these 16 dolphins can serve as ambassadors with humans for the rest of the wild population, then so be it,” de Mattos said. “They could very well help save the river dolphins.”

    Seeing the dolphins is difficult and usually occurs only from a distance. The chance to see them up close was impossible for me to pass up.

    I had just enough time to squeeze in a side adventure before continuing down the Amazon River the next day.

    “Novo Airao is only two hours from Manaus,” several people told me, including the bus driver as I stepped on board.

    Four hours later, we pulled into Novo Airao, a small riverside town.

    The bus stopped in the middle of the road because the streets were filled with tents that were left over from a holiday party.

    “Where’s the bus station?” My plan was to buy a return ticket to Manaus, and I needed to know what time the bus would leave.

    The bus driver pointed down a street.

    So I walked to the end of that street.


    I turned around and walked back.


    “How could I miss a bus station?”

    Just as I was getting ready to again walk down the same street, a woman rode up on her bike and asked, “Are you lost?”

    “I’m looking for the bus station.”

    “There is no bus station. The bus parks outside my restaurant on the street.”

    That’s why I couldn’t find it.

    “The only bus for Manaus leaves in two hours. You can buy a ticket on the bus,” she added.

    She graciously explained I could find the river dolphins on the edge of the river at a place everyone refers to as “the woman’s house.”

    “My husband will give you a ride on his motorcycle. He’s a good rider, so don’t worry about the pouring rain.”

    Just so pleased to find someone who spoke English, I agreed and hopped on with my backpack.

    “Remember, the bus leaves in two hours,” my driver said with a smile as he left me at the side of the river.

    In soaked clothes, I looked down below and saw a floating cabin – “the woman’s house.”

    Walking into the house was not what I had pictured, which was a scene of an old woman sitting in a rocking chair throwing fish out her window to waiting dolphins.

    Instead, I found a ticket table and a group of people in a waiting room lined up to see the dolphins off the back of the house.

    I joined the line and waited my turn. For an hour, I stood at the back of the house in amazement. I watched as a young girl perched on a ledge threw frozen fish into the hungry mouths of the wild river dolphins.

    Crouched on my knees, I ran my hand across the smooth pink and gray skin of a dolphin as it jumped up to grab a fish.

    Soon my time was up and I needed to head back so I wouldn’t miss the bus.

    It turned out that the same bus I arrived on was returning to Manaus. As I boarded, I asked the driver, “How long to Manaus?”

    “Two hours,” he replied.

    Pink dolphins

    Pink dolphins

    Fremont Tribune

Copyright © Dean Jacobs 2019. All Rights Reserved.