Couple of days ago, I was talking to Maria, a DiveWithSeaman reader from Morocco. She has asked me if I have ever dived in the Amazon. I didn’t dive there and Maria’s question made me search about diving in Amazon. I know you have watched some “killer anaconda” and “murderer piranha” movies and these are the only stuff come to your mind when I talk about “diving in Amazon“. When I started to search about Amazon, I realized that these myths are creating mystery and fear against this great river.
Where is the Amazon River?
Amazon is located in South America. The Amazon Basin almost covers 30% of South America. The river flows from west to east (from Peru, Iquitos to reaches the Atlantic Ocean in Brazil). The Amazon is surrounded by big and living forests. Every year, the water level rises up to 9 meters, causing natural floods. I am sure you have seen “flooded forests” of Amazon in documentaries. Trees rising up in the river with huge roots in a muddy river? This is a great adaptation and a “rare to see” view.
Amazon has the greatest drainage on the world with 7,050,000 square kilometers. This number is almost one fifth of the globe’s total river drainage. Amazon feeds the jungles with the same name and known as the “lungs of the Earth“.
The Living Amazon River
Amazon River and the Amazon Rainforest have one of the most biodiversities on the world. And in fact, this is not a surprise. The Amazon Rainforest covers an area of 5.400.000 square kilometers (30% of the South America). The larger an area gets, the more creatures it homes. In the Amazon Basin, there are more than 2.100 kinds of fish and it is obvious that hundreds of them are still waiting in these muddy waters to get discovered. Let’s have a look at this rich biodiversity (I want to talk about the creatures that has become identical with the Amazon River):
Very first reptile and animal to talk about in Amazon River is definitely the huge green anaconda (Eunectes murinus). Although green anaconda is a non-venomous snake, its length has always feared human-beings. You don’t really need luck to see a 4 meter long green anaconda in the Amazon River Basin.
The green anaconda feeds with fish, mammals, reptiles and birds. It is also known that the cannibalism can occur. There are some cases that a female green anaconda eats smaller male. The reason is unknown but this maybe a result of protein need of the female for the gestation period. The smaller male is a good source of protein here. We also know this habit from the female Black Widows. Large and adult green anacondas can even eat deer, tapir and capybara.
There a myth that the green anaconda also eats man but there is not enough evidence that supports this.
Another reptile citizen of the Amazon River is the caiman. The black caiman (Melanosuchus niger) can be up to 4 meters long and lives in the Amazon Basin. In general, caimans are much like crocodiles. Caiman is the subfamily of Alligatoridae and under the order of Crocodylia.
Black caimans are the largest kind of caimans. They eat fish (including the famous piranha), frogs, birds, snakes (yes, they sometimes catch and eat smaller anacondas) and even mammals in Amazon Rainforest like monkeys, pacas and capybaras. It can also been seen a black caiman is hunting domestic animals like horses, dogs and pigs (I don’t know if it includes the farmer).
Yes, it is time for my personal favorite. I love the fresh water dolphins. In the Amazon River, the largest individual of the fresh water dolphins live. These great mammals area called the Amazon River Dolphin or “boto“(Inia geoffrensis). A boto can be larger than a human (females can grow up to 2.5 meters and males 2 meters). They can hunt by the help of their long “nose” and can turn their heads 180°. These flexibilities help them find preys and navigate in narrow underwater tunnels.
Their color can be light gray or pink which make them cute for people. But when they get older, they become white.
Other mammal that likes to surf in the Amazon River is the Amazonian Manatee (Trichechus inunguis). The Amazonian Manatee is the smallest manatee species after the newly discovered dwarf manatee. Its conservation status has been “vulnerable”. This herbivore mammal is getting hunted by man and their population is declining due to the habitat loss. All the manatees are facing with power boat crashes around the world. I am sure you have seen manatees on TV getting caught for investigation with really bad propeller scars on them.
The giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) living on the Amazon Basin is the largest of its kind. They can grow up to 1.7 meters. They are very social and live in groups like elephants. They are very territory and can be aggressive protecting their “home”. I love to watch otters in documentaries. Otters don’t build dams like the beavers, but they can build “dens” with leaves and moss for protection. These otter den entrances are located underwater.
Who hasn’t watched a “badass piranha” movie? I guess no one. Just like Jaws, these movies have created a fear in us. But is that the reality? Are piranhas looking for man for a good dinner? The answer is no. You can swim in a river full of piranhas. They are just sensitive to blood just like sharks. That’s because they “move” the sick and old animals and makes space for the new. This is a great balance formed by the nature. Watch the video below by Discovery Channel to have a better understanding.
Pirarucu (Arapaima gigas) is one of the largest freshwater fish on the world. It can be more than 2 meters. Because it is mostly consumed by humans, Pirarucus are hunted by spear if it going to get eaten locally. Fishnet is used for catching the Pirarucus and export them.
This fish can also actually “breath” air from the surface. Pirarucu has “swim bladders” which is like our lungs. By this way, it can take the oxygen from the air just like us. Pirarucu is a great example of a successful evolution. This “breathing” means that this fish can even breath if the water if the water level gets low instantly. Or this fish can hunt in waters near to the shore. Because Pirarucu eats crustaceans and fish, but also small animals walking near the river.
Because the Pirarucu population is declining, Brazilian government has forbidden to hunt this fish. Pirarucu has a boneless and large meat, inviting the hunters to kill them. I hope Brazilian government’s act is getting applied right now and the Pirarucu population starts to increase.
The video below is going to show you Pirarucus (also called Arapaima) in Tennessee Aquarium feeding.
The electric eel (Electrophorus electricus), can also be seen in the Amazon River. It can grow up to 3 meters and weigh more than 20 kg. An electric eel can deliver 650 volts of electric. Actually, the electric eel is the fish that the natives are avoiding, not the piranha or anaconda as we guess. This electric eel uses this electric for hunting and defense. In fact, the electric eel is not an “eel”, but a knifefish.
Again, “the electric fish shocking people around and killing them” is a myth. Although 650 volts of electric is very high, it only stuns an adult human. It is very unlikely to die because of an electric eel shock due to the shortness of duration of the discharge. It takes less than 2 ms.
Diving the Rio Negro is a great two part video consists of a French TV crew members scuba diving with rebreathers in Amazon River. I certainly advise you to see this documentary below:
Diving the Rio Negro Part 1
Diving the Rio Negro Part 2
The Amazon River is one of the most extreme diving spots. Everything about the Amazon is huge. The continental, the river, the rainforest, fish, mammals. With its brown and muddy waters, the labyrinth made of underwater roots of the old trees and alien-looking creatures living in it, Amazon River and the Basin seems to keep all its mystery and gloom.
If you have also wanted to dive in Amazon River, or already have dived, please share it on comments below.
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