The Naming of Things: Amazon River Dolphin

River Dolphins are definitely some of the coolest looking dolphins around and the Amazon River Dolphin is no exception. Its distinctly long and pointed rostrum as well as its oftentimes bright pink colour certainly set it apart. Unfortunately, its name… not so much.

The Amazon River Dolphin’s common name suffers from the same “on-the-nose” syndrome of so many other dolphins. It’s a dolphin, that lives in the rivers, in the Amazon. More specifically, Amazon River Dolphins are found in the river systems and basins of the Amazon and Orinoco tributaries in South America.

They are also sometimes called Pink River Dolphins – because they are sometimes pink. Their colour is thought to vary by age being born with very dark grey dorsal colouration and developing more and more pink colouration on their ventral side as they mature. This pink colouration eventually spreads up along the sides of their body and finally as they grow even older their whole body can become almost white.

There is one other common name commonly used to refer to the Amazon River Dolphin: Boto. “Boto” or “Boutu” is the Portuguese word used to refer to multiple dolphin species, usually those found in the river systems of South America. So while Boto does sound unique to my ears its meaning is significantly less-so where it is so commonly spoken. The specific Portuguese name for this species is “Boutu Vermelho” which translates to “red dolphin.”

That said, if you’re reading this from Hawaii – where, admittedly, there are no Amazon River Dolphins – this last common name probably does give you a chuckle because in pidgin, Hawaiian Creole English, “Boto” describes another long pink appendage found particularly on males. I know this has nothing do to with Amazon River Dolphins and it’s NOT what they were named after but it came up often enough while I was researching their name origins that I had to include it 😉

Finally, when it comes to the Amazon River Dolphin’s scientific name, Inia geoffrensis, almost nothing is known about its meaning or its significance – which in and of itself is interesting! The species was first described by Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville in 1817 and from everything I could find he had no relatives named Geoffrey. Even “inia” has no clear Latin or ancient Greek translation and the only thing I could find about it was that it’s sometimes used as a Maori feminine name and means “body of water.”

So while the mystery continues with the scientific name, the three common names of the Amazon River Dolphin are all fairly on-the-nose for this long-rostrumed, pink, river dolphin.

We don’t have any Whale Tales about Amazon River Dolphins yet but we would love to hear about yours! Share your encounter about any whale, dolphin or porpoise here.

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