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Rainforest Dolphins

Dolphins in the Rainforest

rainforest dolphins

  • Pink Dolphin
  • Amazon Icon
  • Flexible Neck
  • Mysterious

Often curious enough to approach swimming or canoeing tourists, rainforest dolphins are one of the most popular river sightings of the Amazon Rainforest and one of the iconic Amazon Rainforest attractions.

Pink River Dolphins

The pink river dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) is found both in the Amazon and Orinoco basins. These rainforest dolphins have a flexible neck for probing their long, slim beak into the mud for prey. They dive for a short amount of time (about one to two minutes) before surfacing.

Pink dolphins are steeped in mystery and not a lot is known about their behaviour. They are suspected to hunt mainly using echolocation due to the murky water. Their teeth are suited to crushing crabs, armoured catfish, and freshwater turtles. They have peg-like teeth at the front for grabbing prey and flatter, crushing teeth at the rear.

Usually living a solitary life or sharing their world with a single partner, pink river dolphins are sometimes seen in groups of over twenty individuals. These rainforest dolphins give birth to a single calf between May and July.

The Grey Dolphin

The grey dolphin (Sotalia fluviatilis) occurs in two forms: a marine form around north east South America and a river form in the lower reaches of the Amazon Basin. Like the pink river dolphin, the grey dolpin is usually alone or in twos, but can be found in groups of ten.

rainforest dolphin

  • Grey Dolphin
  • Grey Dolphin
  • 2 Forms
  • Alone or in twos

Evolution of Dolphins

One of the most complete fossil sets we have documents the evolution of dolphins and whales from their land-living ancestors. We now have so many different fossils showing the transitional stages that we can conclude dolphins and whales evolved from a land living hoofed mammal. The most closely related living mammal to the dolphins’ ancestor is the hippopotamus. The land dwelling animal changed over millions of years to become more and more adapted to life in water.


  • Pakicetus
  • 50 ma
  • Found in Pakistan
  • Ancestor of Whales


People of the Amazon River have a wide variety of beliefs and stories about rainforest dolphins. Many of the stories involve the dolphins transforming into people and seducing the villagers.

One story from the Brazilian Amazon describes the following event:

“In Cachoeiri there lived two orphan girls, visited during the night by strangers dressed in white. They suspected that the two boyfriends were dolphins, and two men armed themselves with harpoons…. There appeared only one of the two mysterious young men. They shot him with three harpoons and the boy managed to reach the river and throw himself into it diving. On another day there appeared floating, dead, a big dolphin, with three harpoons . . . stuck in the back.”

Because rainforest dolphins are the villagers natural competitors (dolphins will eat the same fish the villagers catch), it’s as if the villagers elevate this competition to also include competition for wives and husbands (Cravalho 1999). The dolphins usually appear to the villagers in the form of white men that seduce the women only to return to the river. These stories may also be influenced by the rise of global travel.

Observing Rainforest Dolphins

The Tahuayo Lodge in Iquitos, Peru, has access to a primate research facility at the end of an Amazon River tributary. Here, I remember drinking a hot cup of coffee while watching two pink dolphins playing in the water below and I thoroughly recommend a tour of the Tahuayo Reserve (established for the red uakari).

  • what lodge amazon rainforest

    Eight Days

    Tahuayo Lodge Iquitos, Peru

    You can visit the highly regarded Tahuayo Lodge & Amazon Research Center as part of this tour of the bio-diverse Tahuayo Reserve. You are assigned a private guide & you can choose an itinerary to reflect your interests. Boasting the most itinerary options in Amazonia, you can whiz through the trees on the canopy zipline, view poison dart frog initiatives, & observe different monkeys on the A.R.C primate research grid.
    Private Guide, Zipline, Primate Research Grid
Ash - Author & Travel AdvisorAbout the Author: Ash Card has a BSc in Biology, an MSc in Zoology & a love of nature, travel & conservation. In nature, he enjoys the small dramas that are being played out all around us, such as a parasitic wasp hunting its prey while we walk passed unaware.

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