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International News: 120 Amazon dolphins found dead amidst unprecedented heat and drought

Posted: Wednesday, October 4, 2023. 8:13 pm CST.

By Horace Palacio: In a grim development reported by Al Jazeera, the carcasses of 120 river dolphins have been discovered floating in a tributary of Brazil’s Amazon River over the past week. The severe drought and escalating temperatures are suspected to be the primary causes of this tragedy.

These Amazon river dolphins, which include the uniquely captivating pink-colored species, are exclusive to the rivers of South America and stand among the few freshwater dolphin species left in the world. Given their slow reproductive cycles, these creatures are particularly vulnerable to environmental threats.

According to the Mamiraua Institute, a research division under Brazil’s Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation, two more dolphin carcasses were identified near Tefe Lake this Monday. Water temperatures in the region surrounding Tefe Lake have surged past a sweltering 39°C (102°F) in the recent week, leading experts to believe that the extreme heat might be the main factor behind the fatalities.

Local reports also mention the demise of thousands of fish during this period.

Miriam Marmontel, a dedicated researcher from the Mamiraua Institute, emphasized the severity of the situation, noting, “We’ve documented 120 carcasses in just the last week.” Roughly 80% of these are the distinct pink dolphins, or “boto” as they are called locally, which could account for a staggering 10% of their known population in Lake Tefe. “Such a significant percentage of loss is alarming. If these numbers escalate, we might be confronting a potential extinction of the species in Lake Tefe,” Marmontel cautioned.

The boto, along with the grey river dolphin known as the “tucuxi,” are both listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list of endangered species.

Brazil’s Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation has expedited the dispatch of veterinarians and aquatic mammal experts to Lake Tefe to rescue any remaining dolphins.

While the exact causes of this tragic event remain elusive, teams are exploring all potential explanations, including the chance of bacterial infections. However, the deaths coinciding with the recent surge in lake temperatures, over 10°C above the usual, cannot be ignored.

Environmental activists attribute these scorching conditions to climate change, which amplifies the intensity and frequency of droughts and heatwaves. Ayan Fleischmann, from the Mamiraua Institute, commented on the broader impact of this drought, remarking, “Numerous communities are now stranded, devoid of potable water and lacking river access, which is often their sole means of transport.”

Nicson Marreira, the mayor of Tefe, a city housing 60,000 citizens, shared his concerns about the challenges the dried-up rivers present. “Delivering vital food supplies directly to some of these isolated communities has become an uphill task,” he shared.


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