24 June 2016

Finding Dory: insights from getting lost and being found

Photo from movies.disney.com.au
Warning: spoiler alert!

Disney-Pixar's sequel to 2003's Finding Nemo, is quite a treat for people of all ages who dearly love the ocean, and after watching this movie, those who don't, will soon do. Finding Dory showcases the beauty of the marine environment, from the towering kelps and serene seagrasses, the myriad of majestic corals, cryptic crabs and worms, a fast jetting squid and an agile octopus, to sunbathing Californian sea lionshard-to-resist sea otters, thunderous spotted eagle rays, an adventurous common loon and green sea turtles. As if these marine creatures aren’t fantastic enough, the film delivers an incredibly funny, very poignant story that will tug at everyone’s hearts.

The Pacific regal blue tang, Dory, charmed the audience, chunks of humor aside and her whale-talking-prowess, with a genuine portrayal of what it is like to have an anterograde amnesia, of its limits and quite surprisingly, the strength that it brings forth. We can learn a lot from Dory by looking at the brighter side and asking ourselves the question: “What would Dory do?” instead of saying: “Don’t be such a Dory!”.

Who wouldn’t be in awe with Hank the east Pacific red octopus as he skillfully turns to a house plant, and moments later to a baby feeding on his bottle? Octopuses are probably the most intelligent sea creatures, utilizing every imaginable human litter on the ocean floor to blend in, and yes, even break out from captivity.  Hank was the epitome of such cleverness. More importantly, with Hank getting into trouble inch by inch with Dory, who can match such loyalty? Indeed, when you ask for help, the world conspires in helping you achieve it.

Destiny, the whale shark, although near-sighted and bumps her head all the time, was able to rise above her insecurity (literally and figuratively) and help her pipepal Dory as she launches a rescue operation. Her friend beluga, Bailey was able to regain his ability to echolocate - a ton of help, not to mention super fun - as he and Destiny helped Dory find her way through the pipes. What Dory said was true: “Best things happen by chance.” She happens to have a pipepal who also happens to have the coolest partner. And of course, the world is a better place with people living to their potential and helping each other out.

Our old friends, the orange clownfish Nemo and his father Marlin, resonate a story so familiar – of being lost and then reunited. Marlin knew very well how empty it felt to have lost Nemo and didn't want to go through it all again, that’s why he was hesitant to help Dory, but he was reminded that it was because of Dory and her sometimes thoughtless acts, that helped both Nemo and Marlin muster courage when they needed it most. Sometimes fear can paralyze us, but Dory and many of the characters prove otherwise, and that we won't realize what we’re capable of until we try. So let’s battle against the tempest and just keep swimming!

Join us in the next few weeks as we get to know more about the amazing animals we've met in this story.

Visit SeaLifeBase and FishBase, respectively, or click the designated links.

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17 June 2016

PSA: Don't make Dory your next pet!

Artwork: Mike Yap

Finding Dory is out in cinemas in the U.S. today, June 17.  It’s all about the journey of an amnesic blue tang Dory (Paracanthurus hepatus) reuniting with her family. This sequel to the Disney-Pixar's "Finding Nemo" brings unrest to researchers and conservationists as its popularity might trigger its increased demand in the aquarium trade, such as in the case of the clownfish species after "Finding Nemo" hit the theaters in 2003 [1].

Despite Disney-Pixar's attempt to raise awareness in wild-caught aquarium organisms in "Finding Nemo", this activity giving cause to the movie's title, the aquarium industry still saw an astounding increase in the demand for it. Every kid wants to have a pet nemo.

National Geographic estimates that the demand for clownfish tripled since the film’s release. More than a million is being harvested annually; 400,000 of which goes to United States. According to Fix.com, clownfish species comprise 43% of the marine ornamental aquarium industry. A slight progress in captive breeding of this species might be seen as a boon since 25% of captive-bred fish now comes from trade; however, the remaining is still caught from the wild. Consequently, localized extinction of this tropical fish has been seen, exacerbated with harvesting of coral reefs. Karen Burke da Silva, an Associate Professor of biodiversity and conservation at  Flinders University in South Australia, reported with certainty that there are now areas of Southeast Asia devoid of this species [2]. Ironically, it seems that the message failed to get across.

As if the problems faced by the clownfish aren’t enough, the blue tang is possibly headed to meet its own challenges. Dory in the film might be ignorantly courageous with her mantra “just keep swimming” but the sad truth is that its kind does not fare well in aquariums [2]. Unlike Nemo’s species, Dory's kind is fragile, requires meticulous care, and is near impossible to breed in captivity [1,2]. In fact, a group of researchers have been trying to breed blue tang in laboratory conditions since 2012, but they have not since been able to get the fish to survive longer than 22 days [1]. Upon the film’s release, the biologist Eric Cassiano said there might be a shortage of blue tangs to buy [1]. This might not be enough to satiate people’s desire for such an adorable animal. That fact alone spells trouble for the regal blue tang population. As of today, 300,000 of blue tangs are traded around the world [2]. An increase in the demand for Dory in aquariums would most definitely lead to its population to decline in the wild [1,2].

Although Dory’s population (P. hepatus) is healthy and of least concern, they only thrive in warm, shallow tropical reefs of the Indian and Pacific Oceans [3]. It is but unacceptable to add more pressure to their natural population as climate change escalates. Instead, let’s heed Desiderius Erasmus' famous quote “Prevention is better than cure”.

Let us all raise awareness in keeping species like Dory and Nemo in the wild and not in tanks. Remember that blue tangs in the wild can live up to 30 years [3]. Also, let us consider giving to resources that can improve the status quo of captive breeding programs. If we truly care enough for these precious marine species, we should not let Dory suffer the same dire fate. Tell and share with your friends “Don’t buy Dory!”.

[1] The Huffington Post (2016).‘FindingNemo’ hurt Clownfish. Will the same happen with Dory?  Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/finding-dory-nemo-pet fish_us_573fb10ae4b00e09e89f2814

[2] Scrine, J. (2016, June 1). Losing Nemo and Dory: how Finding Nemo almost doomed the clownfish – and how Finding Dory could decimate the regal blue tang population, too. Retrieved from https://www.fix.com/blog/the-environmental-impact-of-finding-nemo-and-finding-dory/

[3] Sue, C. (2016, June 20). Finding out about Dory: 5 ½ facts on the blue tang. Retrieved from https://blog.education.nationalgeographic.com/2016/06/20/finding-out-about-dory-5%C2%BD-facts-on-the-blue-tang/

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08 June 2016

World Oceans Day 2016: Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet

Artwork: Mike Yap

The ocean provides us with many things, including food and medicine, and is an important reservoir of carbon and oxygen, things that are necessary for our survival. Other than these, it serves as a home to vast numbers of organisms and it also regulates the Earth’s climate. Simply put, oceans since the dawn of time, have been caring for all organisms including the human race, but the question is, do we care for the oceans? Unfortunately, humans have misused its resources and unknowingly put 71 percent of the Earth’s surface at risk. However,  it is never too late for man to change this kind of situation.

Today, the whole world celebrates World Oceans Day, an annual event to celebrate the beauty, the wealth and the promise of the ocean. This was first proposed in 1992 by the Government of Canada at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and in 2008 during the United Nations General Assembly, it was officially set to be celebrated every 8th day of June. May this celebration remind and unite us all in making plans into actions toward a sustainable management of the world’s oceans. Healthy oceans, healthy planet.


World Oceans Day 8 June. Accessed from http://www.un.org/en/events/oceansday/.
World Oceans Day History. Accessed from http://www.worldoceansday.org/about/history/.

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