River dolphins are adapted to fresh water and are therefore able to live mainly in rivers. While not very streamlined, their bodies are flexible and are ideal for chasing prey in sometimes narrow, cramped river channels. Hunting singly or in small groups of two or three, river dolphins feed primarily on fish, including many slow-moving bottom species. Long rows of teeth help river dolphins grasp the fish; some have molarlike back teeth for crushing heavily armoured freshwater fish. Three river dolphins species are nearly blind, relying on echolocation to find food and to make their way through the murky river waters.

The most imperilled of all whales and dolphins, all but one of the five river dolphin species are considered "endangered" or "threatened." Each river dolphin has its own sad tale, but the stories are similar. Many of the world's rivers - dammed, overfished and polluted - simply have little remaining usable habitat.

In most of the countries in which river dolphins are found - China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and much of South America - greater numbers of people and their need for resources have added to the pressures on the rivers and surrounding land. Yet river dolphins survive partly because of the beliefs of the people who have lived alongside them. In China, the baiji was considered by some to be a princess, a creature of legend. In Brazil, the boto was spared because it was thought to be a sign of danger and misfortune. New settlers to the Amazon, however, do not share such respectful views.

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