With river dolphin habitat on the decline in South America, researchers have been exploring alternative locations for new populations of the freshwater mammal. After a global hunt for the perfect place to introduce the animals, experts have identified the Teton River as a prime candidate.
Dr. Ketchim Andreleasem, leader of the groundbreaking project, explained that the Teton River will provide excellent habitat for the pink-toned dolphins. “The Teton River has all of the qualities that freshwater dolphins need to thrive,” she said. “The water is fresh and clean, there are plenty of aquatic plants for them to eat, and they enjoy nibbling on the tails of trout. So they should be exceedingly happy in Teton Valley.”
Andreleasem explained that the dolphins are highly intelligent and friendly, and will pose no risk to community members out enjoying the river. “They’re likely to try and play with you, so we advise that river users bring a few beach balls along to toss around with the dolphins. This usually wins them over and the interactions are very positive,” she said.
Local fishery biologist and aquatic slug expert Reedy Marsh is enthusiastic about the arrival of the first batch of dolphins, which will likely be in June. “The first cadre will be known as the Packsaddle Pod, and will be released into the water near Packsaddle Bridge,” he chirped with glee. Over the summer, Marsh will oversee the subsequent introduction of additional dolphin families that will be known as the Bates Bunch, Fox Creek Faction, Big Eddy Band, and the Horseshoe Herd.
“These amazing animals will expand the biodiversity of the river substantially,” Marsh giggled. “They are brilliant mammals with complex family structures. Their heads are kind of funny-shaped, but don’t let them hear you say that. They’re remarkably insecure about their looks, and quite easily offended.”
Dr. Andreleasem and Marsh will track the dolphins throughout the summer, and when water temperatures begin to dip in the fall, they will begin the process of collecting the animals from the river. “That is the single drawback of the Teton River,” Andreleasem moped. “It gets far too cold in the winter for dolphins. We are working with the community to find foster homes for each of them for the winter months. We are confident that there are enough privately-owned hot tubs in the valley for the entire population to survive until the following spring when they can be returned to the wild.”