Rethinking Boto Dolphin selfies in the Amazon
Our 2017 report A close up on cruelty revealed tourists can swim with, touch and take selfies with pink river dolphins (boto) in Manaus, Brazil. As we know, this practice hides huge cruelty.
Pink river dolphins are free-ranging, wild animals native to the Amazon. Our researchers found popular tourist interactions with these animals can cause injury and competition among them, as well as change their natural behaviour.
In July, our Brazil team attended Manaus's Virada Sustentável – a multi-city sustainability event – with activities focused on selfies with pink dolphins.
We developed activities that warned the public about how direct interaction with pink dolphins is harmful and offered a sustainable alternative that is good for animals and the community.
Observation vs direct interaction
In Largo de São Sebastião, the most famous plaza of the city, we set up two photo booths: one representing observation of pink dolphins; the other, direct interaction.
Our team presented themselves as sellers of tour packages and asked the public to choose between the two options. Those who participated would get a photo in front of the chosen scene, but the photos revealed a surprise.
For those who chose the 'good' selfie, the photo was printed in a frame with a positive message about being a responsible tourist. Those who chose direct-interaction tourism received a warning: "Oops! This kind of tourism does not respect animals."
The surprise made many people want to know more about the negative impact of this type of tourism on pink dolphins. Some told us they had already had the experience of interacting with pink dolphins, and never thought about what is behind it.
An interesting example was two friends who each chose a different side. We found out they were trying to book a tour to see the pink dolphins later that day – but were already divided between swimming with them or going on an observation boat ride. They were unsure if swimming with pink dolphins was actually cruel. Both of them said that participating in our challenge changed their minds and made them decide on the observation ride. They said we helped them realise how tourists' decisions affect the lives of wild animals.
More than 1,000 people participated in the activity, chatted with our team on site and took away our materials on responsible tourism.
"Most tourists would not do this kind of activity if they knew of the cruelty behind it, so it is so important to take that information and offer a positive alternative – observing free dolphins in the wild," explains João Almeida, Wildlife Manager (Brazil).
Giant boto in Ponta Negra
In addition to the main activity in Largo de São Sebastião, we held other activities around the city.
Our giant inflatable boto, well known from past years of the event, made an appearance on Ponta Negra beach with our volunteers, who approached bathers to explain our Selfie Code and our campaign against the exploitation of animals in the Amazon. About 400 people signed our pledge.