|Jumping in with blind pink river dolphins|
Deep within the Bolivian Amazon, the four of us peered over the sides of our dugout canoe, trying to decide if we should take the leap into the deep brown waters of the Yacuma River. We wanted to swim with river dolphins but the piranha-filled, zero visibility water and the 10-foot long caimans eyeing us from the nearby shore kept us from jumping in. “It’s Okay,” said our guide Wilber, sensing our reticence, “the piranha are too small to hurt you and the caimans are scared of the dolphins.” Our kids weren’t going in unless Mom and Dad went first but we were clearly unsure ourselves. We’d been to a few swimming spots along the river but each time we found a reason not to get in and this would probably be our last opportunity.
Wilber rhythmically banged his open palm on the outside hull of the canoe to attract more dolphins. We had seen their pointy, toothy snouts rise out of the water as they surfaced high enough to expel water from their blow holes. The chance to swim with dolphins in the wild and not in some over-sized Florida swimming pool kept us from backing out. “Well,” said my wife, “We’re either going to do this or were not,” and she jumped in and disappeared into the muddy brown water. My son followed his mother and in a few seconds both were floating and grinning, relieved to not be feeling any nibbles from hungry piranha. The curious dolphins swam circles around them and nudged a basketball to my son. After taking a few photographs of them I jumped in. When I surfaced I was relieved to count the same number of caimans on the opposite river bank. Our daughter was still in the boat. She loves dolphins but she hates swimming in water where she can’t see the bottom. After about five minutes of reassurance and cajoling, she reluctantly eased into the water. While our son threw the basketball for the dolphins to retrieve, my daughter and I hung on the sides of the boat. I felt a nibble around my armpit but did my best to keep this information from her. Just as we were getting confident, there was a splash from a big tail and she screamed “What was that!” and quickly threw her arms around me. One of the dolphins, apparently in a playful mood, had made a big splash with its tail and extinguished her budding confidence. It was as if this river dolphin, with a brain 40% larger than a human’s, sensed her anxiety and was singling her out for teasing.
|Flipper of the Amazon|
Like us, they were faced with adjusting to a new environment here in South America. As they evolved, they gained some things necessary for survival and they lost some things that weren’t essential. They gained long, pointed snouts to reach through branches to find river crabs and they developed unfused vertebrae to allow them to make sharper turns through underwater tree roots. They lost their dorsal fins to make navigating tight spots easier, they lost their eyesight because it was useless in the muddy water and their complexion turned pink due to a lack of sunlight penetrating the dark water.