Movies frequently have the potentially unintended effect of sparking sales of a particular species of animal as pets. For instance, sales of clownfish soared following the release of Finding Nemo; shelters reported spikes in Dalmatian populations after the release of 101 Dalmatians; and the Harry Potter films spurred sales (and subsequent surrenders) of pet owls.
The effect of Finding Dory on demand for blue tang fish is unknown at this point, but it was definitely a source of concern for reef conservationists leading up to the release of the movie. Although in the movie we see that Dory was born in an aquarium, in reality blue tangs—like many reef fish—have proven to be nearly impossible to raise via aquaculture. It’s difficult to get the adult fish to spawn in captivity—and even if they do, raising the eggs is extremely challenging.
Why is that? Blue tang eggs are very tiny and must go through a month-long, free-floating stage before the larvae eventually settle out. Reproducing the exact conditions and very specific food sources needed for each stage of the fishes’ development has been an elusive goal.
Because of these difficulties, currently all blue tangs in public or home aquariums must be captured from the wild. Therefore, an increase in pet sales of this species could have a big impact on wild blue tang populations.
One positive effect of the concern generated by the film, however, has been an increased effort to make captive rearing of this species possible: in July of this year, the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Lab announced that they had successfully reared 27 juvenile blue tangs. After 41 days of development in the free-floating phase, the larvae settled to the bottom, and by 52 days had taken on the characteristic blue coloration of adult blue tangs.
We hope this initial success will eventually lead to a reduction in collection of blue tangs and other reef fishes from the wild. Interested in learning more about blue tangs and other amazing animals found in the tropical Pacific? Visit the Seattle Aquarium!