April 9, 2019
I am going to break my silence on the blog not by recounting all of the adventures Katie and I had (there were loads, shoot her a text and ask), but by starting anew with relatively recent events. In this case, I want to describe a really cool wildlife experience I had recently!
On one of Katie’s last days in Sucusari, she and I were coming back from the lodge when Katie saw a dolphin’s head break the surface ahead, and we cut the motor off. Two species of river dolphin live in this area, the Pink River Dolphin and the Grey River Dolphin. I have seen them both many many times; they really aren’t too rare. But it is almost always worth taking a look just in case you find something cool. We drifted in a place called a posa, a turn in the river where the current has carved away the bank for years and created a deep pool, where fish will gather. It was just a quiet afternoon, almost golden hour, sunny, when the temperature cools off and you feel like sitting outside. Nobody else was around, all we could hear were the birds and frogs and the water dripping off the paddle. We sat there in silence.
After a minute, the dolphin broke the surface again, but headed in the other direction. You can just hear the slightest rippling of the water, and then a head breaks the surface and releases a sharp puff of air. It was a large pink male, about 9 feet long. It just came up for a second and went back down, but we decided to sit and wait for it. At the next ripple in the water, a different dolphin, a grey female, poked her head out and dove; we knew then that here was likely a family group that is hunting fish in this posa. Soon after, two dolphins broke the surface at the same time, swimming in tandem; but it was two pink males.
The river dolphins look incredible. They evolved from ancient dolphins of the sea who were stranded and cut off from the ocean when South America was undergoing land changes. They, along with many other classically marine species like stingrays, evolved and adapted to their new environment and gave rise to the freshwater species we see today. The river dolphins in particular are adapted to deal with the muddy, cloudy water of the Amazon. Since they cannot see anything anyway, they are nearly blind physiologically. They hunt instead with a powerful sonar or echolocation organ called the melon. The melon is located on their forehead, so when they break the surface you see an elongated nose, with a dolphin head that looks like it has a huge tumor on its forehead. They have quite small dorsal fins, and the result is a large, sleek-looking animal. The Pink River Dolphin really is bright pink too!
The pod of dolphins swam circles around our boat catching fish for about 45 minutes before they continued heading up river towards the community. It was so exciting to be sitting in the middle of the posa in a boat that’s not much bigger than a dolphin, watching and waiting for the next time those beautiful animals emerge. It was a moment that I have passed by many times as I boat past dolphins, but this time I am glad I stopped. It was incredible.