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Brazil's 'Mythological' Pink Dolphins Finally Being Rescued

Jun 04, 2014 03:33 PM EDT

In an effort to prevent the killing of the Amazon pink dolphin, whose flesh is used as bait, Brazil will temporarily ban the catch of a certain type of catfish, the Fishing and Aquaculture Ministry said Tuesday.

Ministry spokesman Ultimo Valadares said the government is still working out the details of this five-year moratorium, aimed at fishing of the species called piracatinga, and will go into effect sometime next year.

"That should give us enough time to find an alternative bait for the piracatinga," Valadares told the Associated Press (AP)

Also known as the Amazon river dolphin, pink river dolphin or boto, these animals are used for their skin, which is hooked on to catch piracatingas - a carnivorous fish that flocks to the river bottom because it's attracted to dead animal carcass, according to One Green Planet.

Astoundingly, Brazilians don't even eat this catfish - dubbed "water vulture" for its vacuum-like ability to suck up decomposing matter. Poor fisherman living along the rivers of the Amazon region are encouraged by Colombian merchants, the AP reported, to use dolphin flesh as bait since they have a big market for the catfish species.

In the Mamiraua Reserve, more than 1,500 freshwater dolphins are killed annually, said Nivia do Campo, president of an environmental activist group in the northern jungle state of Amazonas, and their numbers have continued to dwindle 10 percent each year since 2000 due to the ongoing slaughter.

Now, with only a population of 13,000 dolphins swimming in the reserve, de Campo could not be more relieved that finally action is being taken.

The pink dolphin is under threat, "and if nothing is done to stop the killing it will become extinct," de Campo added. "That is why the moratorium is excellent news. It will allow us to discover other baits fishermen can use to continue earning money selling piracatinga," she said.

For centuries, the pink dolphin has been protected by myth - many believe it is bad luck to kill them. According to one tale, the dolphins transform into handsome men and leave the water at night, seducing local women before returning to the river.

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