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River Dolphin

River Dolphin Facts

Size Up to 9.8 ft (3 m)
Speed Up to 19 mph (30 km/h)
Weight Up to 661 lb (300 kg)
Lifespan 12-18 years
Food Fish
Predators -
Habitat Rivers (worldwide)
Order Whales
Suborder Toothed whales
Family River dolphins
Scientific name -
Characteristics Dolphins living in rivers

Main Characteristics

Most dolphins live in the oceans. Yet, there are also fresh water dolphins living in rivers. They have adapted to life in fresh water.

River Dolphin Photo: Ivan Sgualdini/Shutterstock

Anatomy and Appearance

The Smallest River Dolphin

The La Plata dolphin is the smallest of all river dolphins. It reaches a length of only about 5 feet (1.5 meters) and a weight of 110 lb (50 kg). Despite being labeled a river dolphin, it primarily lives in saltwater.


River Dolphin Photo: Erni/Shutterstock


River Dolphins Are Loners

While dolphins in the oceans form large pods, river dolphins prefer to live on their own. Only the Sotalia dolphin lives in communities. Yet, this species does not belong to the “genuine” river dolphins. Please find more information under “Facultative Freshwater Dolphins”.

River Dolphin Photo: guentermanaus/Shutterstock

Senses and Abilities

Most of them are nearly blind, which is not that bad for dolphins, as good eyesight would not be too helpful in murky rivers anyway. They also have much longer beaks to grub for food in the muddy ground.

River Dolphin Photo: hecke61/Shutterstock


Species of River Dolphins

People like to discuss the differences between „genuine“ dolphins and river dolphins. Sometimes, dolphins living primarily in freshwater are also categorized as “genuine dolphins” (= saltwater dolphins). Currently, the following species are officially categorized as river dolphins:

  • Amazon river dolphin (South America)
  • Chinese river dolphin in the Yangtze River (China; probably already extinct)
  • La Plata dolphin in the Rio de la Plata Delta (South America)

Facultative Freshwater Dolphins

It is also rather complex the other way round. There are dolphins living in rivers that are not categorized as river dolphins: The Irrawaddy dolphin lives in the Mekong (Southeast Asia), the South Asian river dolphin in the Ganges (India), the Indus river dolphin in the Indus (Pakistan), and the Sotalia dolphin in several South-American rivers. The Atlantic humpback dolphin makes things even more confusing. It does not live in rivers but on the west coast of South Africa. Thus, it is a “genuine” dolphin.

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