Trends. Fads. Movements. We all get caught up in them at some point or another and with Hollywood in our lives, we are exposed to hundreds, if not thousands of influences every day. So, when a movie with an animal hero is released, the consequences can be dire. Think Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, 101 Dalmatians, Beverly Hills Chihuahua – all these movies caused a spike in the demand for the real-life main characters – all with far-reaching consequences for the animals involved.

Which brings us to Pixar’s latest release – Finding Dory.

Let’s first look at a bit of background information about blue tangs, because although these fish will forever be known as Dories, they are actually blue tangs (also known as regal tangs or palette surgeons). These beauties live on coral reefs, where they are grazers and keep the algae growth on the reefs under control. So, not only are they pretty, they are hard workers and have a role to play in health of coral reefs.

Photo courtesy Flickr/Sandip Bhattacharya (CC BY 2.0)

Back to Finding Dory and the reason for this blog. Scientists and concerned conservation organisations and even members of the public are all expecting a sharp spike in the demand for blue tangs after the release of the movie last week. They have a very legitimate concern. When Finding Nemo hit our big screens in 2003, children and adults alike became obsessed with the little fish. Demand for clownfish grew between 30 and 40%. Many clownfish met their deaths by being introduced – with ceremony, I am sure – to the sewer system with the intention of being set free.

But the thing about clownfish is that they have been successfully bred in captivity, so the increased demand could somewhat be met. In fact, the clownfish in our wonderful exhibit were bred in captivity.

The same cannot be said about the blue tang. They have not successfully been bred in captivity. All of these fish that you see in pet shops, have in fact been taken from the wild and the more people ask for these fish, the more will be taken.

Which brings us to why you should not get a blue tang. Here are six reasons:

  1. As mentioned above, they are all captured from the wild and were not bred in captivity.
  2. When Dr Sherman collected Nemo off the reef, he did so gently and with a little net. The reality is that when collecting tropical fish, cyanide is often used to stun the animals for easy collection. Yes, cyanide. That’s the poisonous stuff that can kill you. Imagine what it is doing to the fish and the reefs. Sometimes even dynamite is used, which has a devastating impact on coral reefs too.
  3. For every one marine fish you see in a pet shop, about nine others died while being collected and transported. There is also a very good chance that that one little fish will succumb to stress-induced disease, once you get it home.
  4. Blue tangs, like all living things, start off small and grow. They can grow to be 25cm in length. That’s a big fish. Once it has grown to that size and you do not have the space for it, what are you going to do with it then?
  5. Now, keeping point four in mind, consider that blue tangs live in pairs or in groups of up to 10 or 12 individuals. You need a really big tank for one fish of 25cm, imagine the size tank you need for 10 fish that size?
  6. When keeping fish, you need to recreate an entire ecosystem in a closed and confined space – the tank. This takes a great deal of expertise, space, money, time and commitment.

As a public aquarium, we are often asked to take in unwanted fish. These fish come from people who can no longer take care of the animal because of various reasons. Some have outgrown their tanks, others were eating their tank mates, and some people just did not realise what they were committing to when they bought the fish in the first place.

We know that Dory is lovely – she crawled into our hearts in Finding Nemo but, let’s just keep her swimming in the big blue.

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