The Sawtooth Dolphin, or "Amazon Nessie"

The Sawtooth Dolphin, or "Amazon Nessie"

Last time I mentioned that Wade had long been known to the cryptozoology community as the guy who photographed an animal dubbed the "sawtooth dolphin."  Also called the "Amazon Nessie," this beast of the freshwater Amazon is pictured here on Jeremy Wade's website.

Wade photographed the strange animal, whose back is shaped almost like a toothed gear, in 1994.  The single photograph remained the only inkling of this animal until he returned to the Amazon with a BBC production crew.  

It was later definitively identified as what Wade calls a "malformed" Amazon river dolphin.  (But props to Wade for being open about this fact.  So many cryptozoologists seem to cling to their original hypothesis until death, despite all evidence to the contrary.)

Of course, the existence of pink dolphins in the Amazon river is strange news enough, to most people.  In truth, freshwater dolphins were once commonplace in the world's largest rivers.  Species of river dolphin colonized the Yangtze river in China, the Ganges and Indus rivers in India, and the Amazon river in South America.  

Sadly the Amazon species is essentially the only one left.  The other species are functionally extinct.  And the Amazon river dolphin is well on its way to extinction.  This unique animal, although protected by the Brazilian government, is caught by Amazon fishermen, cut up and used for bait.

The river dolphin has many strengths, but its weaknesses include being native to what has essentially become an interstate highway.  In addition to being struck and killed by boats, poisoned by pollution, trapped by dams, entangled by nets, poached and sold as an aphrodisiac, and starved by their dwindling food resources, the volume of noise created by river traffic drowns out the dolphin's ability to echolocate what fish remain in the river.  

If you think about it, the amazing thing is that we have any river dolphins still left in the world.

Known as "piranha killers" by those who dwell along the Amazon, the river dolphin is one of the few animals to prey upon those fish of nightmares.  Amazon river dolphins, although hardly dangerous, are a little more belligerent than their ocean-going relatives, as you can see from this video clip of Wade feeding a rambunctious pod of local dolphins.

Another difference between river and ocean-going dolphins is that river dolphins have no meaningful predators.  This has had the effect of dissipating the pod structure that so dominates the life of saltwater dolphins.  River dolphins are often solitary animals, or may form loose groups.  But nothing like the pods formed by saltwater dolphins.

In contrast to Western tradition which embraces the dolphin wholeheartedly as an intelligent and lovable animal, Amazon residents have a more ambiguous relationship with the dolphins.  (Perhaps because they are in direct competition with the dolphins for food.)  

According to Wikipedia, is said that if you make eye contact with a river dolphin, you will have nightmares for the rest of your life.  And at night, male river dolphins are said to turn into handsome human males and come on shore in order to seduce and impregnate unsuspecting women.

Photo credit: Flickr/Andy Field (Hubmedia)