2018 Travels 5 - Amazon River Cruise travel blog

Special Buffett in ship's lobby

Entering Amazon River, Brazil

Arriving Santarem

Landing at Santarem

Sights of Santarem

Sights of Santarem

Sights of Santarem

Sights of Santarem

Sights of Santarem

Sights of Santarem

Sights of Santarem

Sights of Santarem

Sights of Santarem -- The Pink Dolphins


We had two days “at Sea” to relax and the ship threw a Super Buffett in the center of the ship; reason unknown except maybe to keep us entertained. After hours of setting up the tables, food, etc., all the chefs were introduced. We also traveled through the mouth of the Amazon River to Santarem. The river was very, very wide (up to 12 miles wide) and the water was not clear, but we did get to see the “Pink Dolphins” (more info, more than you EVER wanted to know about Dolphins can be found on our Travel Journal). Also, we saw, but were not able to photograph the Pink Dolphins so I “borrowed” some photos just so y’all could enjoy them as much as we did.

So, after our Sea Days, we arrived at Santarém, Brazil (or Brasil as the locals spell it). This is a city and municipality in the western part of the state of Pará in Brazil. Located at the confluence of the Tapajós and Amazon Rivers, it has become a popular tourist destination. It is the second-most important city in the state, and the financial and economic center of the western part of the state. It leads the Santarém Metropolitan Area, made up of Santarém, Belterra and Mojuí dos Campos. It was once home to the Tapajós Indians, a tribe of Native Americans after whom the river was named. They were the leaders of a large, agricultural chiefdom that flourished before the arrival of Europeans.

It is located some 500 miles from the two largest cities in the Brazilian Amazon: Manaus, upriver in the state of Amazonas, and the Pará state capital Belém, located downriver at the mouth of the Amazon on the Atlantic Ocean. Santarém has an estimated population of 299,419 people (2012 Census), and is the third most populous city of the state. The city was founded by Portuguese colonists in 1661 as New Santarém (after the city in Portugal). It is one of the oldest cities in the Brazilian Amazon and is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Santarém.

Because of the crystalline waters of the Tapajós River, Santarém has more than 62 miles of natural beaches, such as those of the village of Alter do Chão, known as the "Caribbean in Brazil." The Guardian ranked the latter beach as one of the most beautiful in Brazil and the most beautiful beach on fresh water. The Portuguese eventually found a Tupuliçus Indian settlement near the mouth of the Tapajós River and made port there. The Indians had already had contact with Europeans, mainly Spanish explorers who had been to the settlement. The Portuguese and Tupuliçus started trading. Pedro Teixeira resumed his exploration. The Jesuits took on the work of founding a village for missionary purposes on the site. Santarém was founded by Father João Felipe Bettendorff on 22 June 1661 with the name "Aldeia do Tapajós" (Tapajós village) and he built the Chapel of Our Lady of Conception. The site where the first mass was celebrated in the city is now marked by a monument.

In 1900 a high school was built on the site that was the center of Santarem. Early in the first decade of the 21st century, "Praça Mirante do Tapajós", a tourist attraction, was built behind the school. Two of the cannons from an old fortress have been installed at the city's airport, where they can be seen from the passenger terminal.

The actual town of Santarém is bordered by the Amazon and the Tapajós rivers. Both run along many miles in the front of the city, side by side, without mixing. The Amazon's milky colored water carries sediment from the Andes in the East, while the Tapajós's water is somewhat warmer and has a deep-blue tone. This phenomenon is called "The meeting of the waters" by the locals. I will tell you more about this when I write about Manaus, Brazil, our next stop.

There wasn’t much for us in the town, but a terrific singing and dancing show was put on especially for us. It was a 45 minute, non-stop, jumping, dancing, singing and costume changes that kept our feet going and our hearts pounding. I tried to capture some video for you, but this Chinese lady in front of me kept jumping up to take pictures at the same time I was trying to video. I was definitely impressed with the beautiful Brazilian people, both female and male. The gals were just gorgeous and the guys had muscles that made me jealous. I hope their looks come through in the photos we took.

Now For your edification of the Pink Dolphin: The Amazon River dolphin (Inia geoffrensis), also known as the boto, bufeo or pink river dolphin, is a species of toothed whale classified in the family Iniidae. Three subspecies are currently recognized: I. g. geoffrensis (Amazon river dolphin), I. g. boliviensis (Bolivian river dolphin) and I. g. humboldtiana (Orinoco river dolphin). The three subspecies are distributed in the Amazon basin, the upper Madeira River in Bolivia, and the Orinoco basin, respectively.

The Amazon River dolphin is the largest species of river dolphin, with adult males reaching 408 pounds in weight and 8.2 feet in length. Adults acquire a pink color, more prominent in males, giving it its nickname "pink river dolphin". Sexual dimorphism is very evident, with males measuring 16% longer and weighing 55% more than females. Like other toothed whales, they have a melon, an organ that is used for bio sonar. The dorsal fin, although short in height, is regarded as long, and the pectoral fins are also large. The fin size, un-fused vertebrae, and its relative size allow for improved maneuverability when navigating flooded forests and capturing prey. They have one of the widest ranging diets among toothed whales, and feed on up to 53 different species of fish, such as croakers, catfish, tetras and piranhas. They also consume other animals such as river turtles and freshwater crabs. In 2008, this species was ranked by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as being data deficient, due to the uncertainty regarding its population trends and the impact of threats. While hunting is a major threat, in recent decades greater impacts on population have been due to the loss of habitat and inadvertent entanglement in fishing lines. It is the only species of river dolphin kept in captivity, mainly in Venezuela and Europe; however, it is difficult to train and a high mortality is seen among captive individuals.

Apure the dolphin lived for forty years at the Duisburg Zoo. Life expectancy of the Amazon River dolphin in the wild is unknown, but in captivity, the longevity of healthy individuals has been recorded at between ten and thirty years. The Amazon River dolphin are commonly seen singly or in twos, but may also occur in pods that rarely contain more than eight individuals. Pods as large as 37 individuals have been seen in the Amazon, but average is three. Typically, social bonds occur between mother and child, but may also been seen in heterogeneous groups or bachelor groups. The largest congregations are seen in areas with abundant food, and at the mouths of rivers. There is significant segregation during the rainy season, with males occupying the river channels, while females and their offspring are located in flooded areas. However, in the dry season, there is no such separation. Due to the high level of prey fish, larger group-sizes are seen in large sections that are directly influenced by whitewater (such as main rivers and lakes, especially during low water season) than in smaller sections influenced by black water (such as channels and smaller tributaries). Captive studies have shown that the Amazon River dolphin is less shy than the bottlenose dolphin, but also less sociable. It is very curious and has a remarkable lack of fear of foreign objects. However, dolphins in captivity may not show the same behavior that they do in their natural environment, where they have been reported to hold the oars of the fishermen, rub against the boat, pluck underwater plants, and play with sticks, logs, clay, turtles, snakes, and fish. They are slow swimmers; they commonly travel at speeds of 0.93 to 1.99 miles per hour, but have been recorded to swim at speeds up to 8.7 to 13.7 miles per hour. When they surface, the tips of the snout, melon and dorsal fins appear simultaneously, the tail rarely showing before diving. They can also shake their fins, and pull their tail fin and head above the water to observe the environment. They occasionally jump out of the water, but are harder to train than most other species of dolphin. During courtship, adult males have been observed carrying objects in their mouths such as branches or other floating vegetation, or balls of hardened clay. The males appear to carry these objects as a socio-sexual display which is part of their mating system. The behavior is triggered by an unusually large number of adult males and/or adult females in a group, or perhaps it attracts such into the group. A plausible explanation of the results is that object-carrying is aimed at females and is stimulated by the number of females in the group, while aggression is aimed at other adult males and is stimulated by object-carrying in the group. Before determining that the species had an evident sexual dimorphism, it was postulated that the river dolphins were monogamous. Later, it was shown that males were larger than females and are documented wielding an aggressive sexual behavior in the wild and in captivity. Males often have a significant degree of damage in the dorsal, caudal, and pectoral fins, as well as the blowhole, due to bites and abrasions. They also commonly have numerous secondary teeth-raking scars. This suggests fierce competition for access to females. In captivity, courtship and mating foreplay have been documented. The male takes the initiative by nibbling the fins of the female, but reacts aggressively if the female is not receptive. Breeding is seasonal, and births occur between May and June. The period of birthing coincides with the flood season, and this may provide an advantage because the females and their offspring remain in flooded areas longer than males. As the water level begins to decrease, the density of food sources in flooded areas increases due to loss of space, providing enough energy for infants to meet the high demands required for growth. Gestation is estimated to be around eleven months and captive births take 4 to 5 hours. At birth, calves are 31 inches long and in captivity have registered a growth of 0.69 feet per year. Lactation takes about a year. The interval between births is estimated between 15 and 36 months, and the young dolphins are thought to become independent within two to three years.

The relatively long duration of breastfeeding and parenting suggests a strong mother-child bond. Most couples observed in their natural environment consist of a female and her calf. This suggests that long periods of parental care contribute to learning and development of the young.

Amazonian rivers are often very murky, and the Amazon River dolphin is therefore likely to depend much more on its sense of echolocation than vision when navigating and finding prey. However, echolocation in shallow waters and flooded forests may result in many echoes to keep track of. For each click produced a multitude of echoes are likely to return to the echo locating animal almost on top of each other which makes object discrimination difficult. Like other dolphins, river dolphins use whistling tones to communicate. The issuance of these sounds is related to the time they return to the surface before diving, suggesting a link to food. Acoustic analysis revealed that the vocalizations are different in structure from the typical whistles of other species of dolphins.

The Amazon River dolphin is observed in the main branch of the Amazon River near Fonte Boa, Brazil, with multiple floodplains, lakes and smaller channels throughout the year. Amazon River dolphins are the most widespread river dolphins. They are present in six countries in South America: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela, in an area covering about 2,700,000 square miles). The boundaries are set by waterfalls, such as the Xingu and Tapajos rivers in Brazil, as well as very shallow water. A series of rapids and waterfalls in the Madeira River have isolated one population, recognized as the subspecies I. g. boliviensis, in the southern part of the Amazon basin in Bolivia.

The Amazon River dolphin has historically been kept in dolphinariums. Today, only three exist in captivity: one in Acuario de Valencia in Venezuela, one in Zoologico de Guistochoca in Peru, and one in Duisburg Zoo in Germany. Several hundred were captured between the 1950s and 1970s, and were distributed in dolphinariums throughout the US, Europe, and Japan. Around 100 went to US dolphinariums, and of that, only 20 survived; the last died at the Pittsburgh Zoo in 2002.

During the process of catching the commercialized fish, the Amazon river dolphins get caught in the nets and exhaust themselves until they die, or the local fishermen deliberately kill the entangled dolphins. The carcasses are discarded, consumed, or used as bait to attract a scavenger catfish., the piracatinga (Calophysus macropterus). The use of the Amazon River dolphin carcass as bait for the piracatinga dates back to 2000. Increasing demand for the piracatinga has created a market for distribution of the Amazon River dolphin carcasses to be used as bait throughout these regions. Of the 15 dolphin carcasses found in the Japurá River in 2010–2011 surveys, 73% of the dolphins were killed for bait, disposed of, or abandoned in entangled gillnets. Scavenger species feed upon the carcasses, and the complexity of the river currents make it nearly impossible to locate all of the dead animals. More importantly, the local fishermen do not report these deaths out of fear that a legal course of action will be taken against them, as the Amazon River dolphin and other cetaceans are protected under a Brazilian federal law prohibiting any takes, harassments, and kills of the species.

And, as if all this info wasn’t enough for you, here is some Mythology. In traditional Amazon River folklore, at night, an Amazon River dolphin becomes a handsome young man who seduces girls, impregnates them, and then returns to the river in the morning to become a dolphin again. Similarly, the female becomes a beautiful, well - dressed, wealthy – looking young woman. She goes to the house of a married man, places him under a spell to keep him quiet, and takes him to a thatched hut and visits him every year on the same night she seduced him. On the 7th night of visiting, she changes the man into a female or male baby, and soon transfers it into his own wife's womb. The mythology is said to be the cycle of a baby. This dolphin shape shifter is called an encantado. The myth has been suggested to have arisen partly because dolphin genitalia bear a resemblance to those of humans. Others believe the myth served (and still serves) as a way of hiding the incestuous relations which are quite common in some small, isolated communities along the river. In the area, tales relate it is bad luck to kill a dolphin. Legend also states that if a person makes eye contact with an Amazon River dolphin, he or she will have lifelong nightmares. Local legends also state that the dolphin is the guardian of the Amazonian manatee, and that if one should wish to find a manatee, one must first make peace with the dolphin.

Associated with these legends is the use of various fetishes, such as dried eyeballs and genitalia. These may or may not be accompanied by the intervention of a shaman. A recent study has shown, despite the claim of the seller and the belief of the buyers, none of these fetishes is derived from the boto. They are derived from Sotalia guianensis, are most likely harvested along the coast and the Amazon River delta, and then are traded up the Amazon River. In inland cities far from the coast, many, if not most, of the fetishes are derived from domestic animals such as sheep and pigs.

Now, aren’t you glad you asked about the Pink Dolphins?

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