Along the rivers of the Amazon rain forest, people still recount legends in which pink dolphins are magical creatures that can turn into men and impregnate women. Brazilian musicians write songs about them, singing lovingly about the “eye of the river dolphin.”

Ronan Benício Rego, a fisherman in Igarapé do Costa, said he had used his harpoon to kill river dolphins.

But for Ronan Benício Rego, a fisherman in this tiny settlement, pink dolphins are both rival — and prey.

The illegal slaughtering of dolphins is on the rise here, threatening one of the storied symbols of the Amazon and illustrating the challenge of policing environmental law in such a vast territory, researchers and government officials say. Hundreds, if not thousands, of the estimated 30,000 river dolphins plying the Amazon region are dying every year, they say.

Miguel Miguéis, 41, a Portuguese researcher from the Federal University of Western Pará who studies river dolphin populations around the city of Santarém, said the high rate of killings could lead to their extinction. “They are killing their culture, their folklore,” Dr. Miguéis said. “They are killing the Amazon.”

Several hours upriver from here, in the biological reserve of Rio Trombetas, where river dolphins swim in an Amazon tributary teeming with piranhas and crocodiles, Dr. Miguéis said he had seen the dolphin population fall to a little over 50 earlier this year from about 250 in 2009.

“I am really worried about what is happening at the reserve,” Dr. Miguéis said.

Yet here in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, many people are indifferent about the killings. At an open-air market in Santarém, vendors sell genitals removed from dead dolphins as good luck charms for sex and love. Jars of oil from river dolphin fat sit alongside oil from anacondas and crocodiles. The dolphin oil potion, which sells for about $25 a small bottle, is used to treat rheumatism, a saleswoman explained.

At a Santarém fish market, customers said they had no idea fishermen were using dolphins to catch the catfish, known as piracatinga in Brazil. Still, they said protecting dolphins was not a priority.

Source and full story:
New York Times 17.04.2011

https://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/world/americas/17dolphins.html

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