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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