While swimming in a river in Santa Rosa de Yacuma, Bolivia, a woman suffered an extremely rare river dolphin attack, the typically docile animal using its sharp pointed teeth and strong jaw to bite her foot down to the bone.
Claire Bye, a 28-year-old tourist from the UK, was swimming in the river with a tour group. Bye, along with many other tourists and their children, were happily playing with the pink river dolphins.
One of the children, however, got a little too aggressive in their play, attempting to lift one of the dolphins in their arms. Seeing that the dolphin was agitated, Bye left the water. Moments later, she briefly stepped back into the river to retrieve a water bottle, at which point the dolphin swam up to her and sunk its teeth into her foot.
The attack shocked not only everyone at the scene but experts as well, who reported that pink river dolphins are typically highly friendly. They only attack when directly threatened. Unfortunately, the enraged dolphin apparently perceived the child’s actions as a threat.
“River dolphins are non-aggressive creatures. It is just the opposite, they are very curious and charismatic animals,” Mariana Paschoalini Frias, a river dolphin expert at WWF-Brasil, told Newsweek.
According to Frias, the incident in Bolivia was an example of “disordered nature tourism” rather than an overly aggressive dolphin. The tour group with which Bye was traveling took part in providing food to wildlife, an action known to cause attacks across many species, not just dolphins.
This poor wildlife interaction etiquette, on top of the rowdy tourists, led to the grisly attack. “River dolphins have no reason to attack a human being unless it feels threatened. I believe that is the case at Santa Rosa de Yacuma,” the dolphin researcher said.
River Dolphin Bite Victim Undergoes Surgery to Repair Injured Foot
According to Claire Bye, several tourists left the water with scrapes on their legs from encounters with the unhappy dolphins. As such, she assumed that would be the worst-case scenario when she went back to the water to get her water bottle.
Instead, however, the river dolphin bit down on her foot for around 20 seconds, leaving a massive gash behind through which the tourist could see her bone. Bystanders rushed Bye to the local hospital, but her injuries were too severe for them to treat. The wound became infected, forcing staff to transport her to a larger hospital in Bolivia.
After returning to the UK, Bye received skin flap surgery to repair her mangled foot. Taking tissue from her groin, doctors transplanted the healthy skin to her foot, sealing the still gaping wound.
In addition to irresponsible tourism, pink river dolphins face many threats such as pollution, climate change, habitat loss, and conflicts with fishermen. They are currently classified as “endangered” by the IUCN Red List, with experts estimating their populations will drop by half every 10 years.