A lake turned into a hot ‘soup’. Then the river dolphins died. | ET REALITY


Their pink bodies began washing ashore last month, surprising locals and scientists in the remote Amazon town of Tefé, Brazil, who had never seen anything like it. A devastating drought had left parts of the tributaries that flow into the Amazon River nearly dry, causing some water routes to become impassable and turning other shallow areas into a hot bath.

But the Amazon River dolphin, endangered animals known for their unusual color, had always stood out as one of the river’s most resilient species. Now at least 125 were dead.

“You see the water covered with corpses,” said Miriam Marmontel, a researcher at the Mamirauá Institute for Sustainable Development, who is leading the investigation into the dolphin deaths in Lake Tefé, about 530 kilometers west of Manaus, the state capital. from Amazon.

On Thursday, the lake’s temperature reached 102 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 39 degrees Celsius, about nine degrees warmer than usual, according to the institute, which said it had recovered the first bodies on Sept. 23. While scientists investigate other causes, including possible disease or contaminated water, the only known factor is the exceptionally high temperature of the water, which Dr. Marmontel described as “soup.”

By Tuesday, the water had cooled to 36.5 degrees Celsius, but scientists remain concerned about the dolphins, which are disoriented and spinning, unable to dive as they usually do, using their extremely flexible necks to navigate the misty waters and submerged marine branches. Dr. Marmontel said her team members were closely monitoring the dolphins and moving those in distress to an artificial pool for observation, adding that they could not relocate the animals to the cooler Amazon River. before ruling out an infection or disease.

Meanwhile, a team of about 20 people works from morning to dusk, recovering dolphin carcasses that float in the lake or have washed ashore, said Ayan Fleischmann, a hydrologist who also works at the Mamirauá Institute. Because the region is largely connected by waterways, teams must drag decomposing bodies in boats to tents located near the port of Tefé so scientists can take samples for analysis. This will take time, given the distance from major cities and laboratories, Dr. Fleischmann added. “We’re very, very anxious to know what’s going on,” he said.

In recent days, the drought-stricken region has also been hit by extremely humid weather and poor air quality, which, combined with the stench of dead bodies, have created difficult conditions. “The smell of rot was unbearable,” said Jociney de Souza da Silva, a city worker who helps locate endangered animals in remote areas of the lake. The crisis has shaken local communities, some of which make a living through ecotourism built around dolphins, also known as boto or bufeo, and sustain folkloric meaning in the Amazon. According to legend, dolphins transform into men at nightfall and seduce young women. another says Dolphins can take a lone swimmer in the river to a magical underwater city, known as Encante.

“The boto is part of our cultural identity,” Souza said. “It’s so sad.”

The creatures, which can grow up to eight feet, are also considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to their vulnerability to pollution, dams and fishermen, who sometimes hunt them for bait.

In the remote region surrounding Lake Tefé, where most communities are only accessible by boat, the drought has also cut off some waterways that serve as transportation routes for supplies such as gas, food and drinking water. Last week, Brazilian officials said they were establish a working group to help those in the drought-affected region, and officials in the state of Amazonas declared state of emergency for 55 municipalities in the region, promising to deliver aid to remote communities. The drought has also caused massive fish deaths in some parts of the Amazon River, polluting the water.

Forecasters predict that the dry weather will persist at least until October, which could worsen the drought in the region. Dr Marmontel said she was concerned that river dolphins in other parts of the Amazon could soon suffer a similar fate.

“It’s going to happen again,” he said. “Here or somewhere else.”

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