This article originally appeared on Outside
When a British woman named Claire Bye plunged into the Yacuma River in the Bolivian Amazon last January to frolic with pink river dolphins, she couldn't have conjured a more Disneyesque scene.
She was three months into a life-altering journey across Central and South America, and she found herself surrounded by tropical birds, humming cicadas, and swimming companions that seemed as dreamy as unicorns. It was heaven--until it wasn't. Someone in her tour group picked up a baby dolphin, and the pod became agitated and commenced ramming people. Wisely, Bye climbed out of the water and watched from a pontoon. But when she jumped in later to retrieve a wayward water bottle, one of the creatures chomped her foot and held on. She started screaming.
"Oh, my gosh!" blurted out Mike Smith.
"Jeez!" said Jeff Larson.
"Man," said Smith.
Smith and Larson weren't watching this live, of course. They were four months and 4,739 miles removed from the attack, ensconced with snacks and sodas in a cozy, snow-covered mountain cabin outside Salt Lake City. More precisely, they were assembled around a coffee table arrayed with audio equipment, recording the latest episode of Tooth and Claw, the world's most popular wildlife podcast.
Twenty-six minutes into the episode, Mike and Jeff were hanging on every turn of Bye's dire situation, as described to them by Wes Larson, a wildlife biologist who is also Jeff's older brother. Each week for the past three years, Wes has shared a harrowing tale of human-wildlife conflict, peppered with scientific insights, conservation intel, and tips on surviving dustups with nature's scariest predators--or, in this case, predators the color of a Barbie Dreamhouse.
"What's the tooth situation again with these dolphins?" Mike asked.
"They have 100 to 140 teeth," Wes said, sounding like a human Wikipedia page. "And they have different types of teeth. The front teeth--what it used to grab her foot--they're very sharp. They're used for grabbing and ripping."
With Claire now missing the top of her foot and spewing blood, it was not the time for Jeff and Mike to go full goofball, which is essentially their role on Tooth and Claw. But leading up to the attack, they'd been having a field day. Before Wes described the dolphins' long snouts, bulbous heads, and chubby cheeks, he encouraged the guys to search for visuals online. The creature quickly drew comparisons to "a sausage seared on one side," "genitalia," and "your newborn nephew that's just ugly." Wes explained that the dolphins are born gray but become increasingly pink from abrasions sustained while fighting.
Wes: "Males are typically much more pink, because they fight a lot."
Jeff: "Tough guys wear pink in dolphin world."
Mike: "It's like Seamus in WWE. You know who Seamus is?"
Wes: "No idea."
Mike: "Super-pale Irish guy who gets slapped and turns bright pink."
Wes then steered the episode safely through a discussion of the scientifically documented sexual positions of Amazon pink river dolphins, followed by a review of tribal myths involving the species, including one about the animal's transformation into "a tall, handsome, elegantly dressed man" who hides his blowhole with a hat, charms village women, and then impregnates them. When he finally guided the episode back to Bye's ordeal, we learned that she spent an agonizing amount of time in several inadequate Amazon medical facilities, and that her badly infected foot was saved only after surgery in London involving skin grafts from her groin.
Eventually, it was time for a segment called Ouchies, where the guys rate a victim's ordeal on a scale of one to ten, one being a mosquito bite, ten being an enraged chimpanzee ripping off your face (a scenario featured in an episode from November 2020). Jeff figures it's a six, based on the possibility that Bye might face lifelong health problems. Mike gave it a five--it's not terrible, he said, compared to bears eating you alive (January 2022)--before acknowledging the trauma of enduring half-ass jungle medical care, and bumping it up to a six. Wes concurred: sixes all around. The show concluded with a discussion of conservation--pink river dolphins are endangered, largely because of encroaching development--and tips on avoiding an attack. For starters, don't pick up baby dolphins. Better yet, said Wes, "You probably shouldn't swim with dolphins at all."
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