Exit Through the Pet Shop: On the Potential Environmental Consequences of Actually Finding Dory


Source: Flickr Creative Commons (Nate Steiner)

With her bright blue scales, yellow tail, and sleek build, Dory is one good-looking fish, and Finding Dory, Pixar’s latest moneymaker, serves as a 105-minute animated broadcast of constant cuteness about her, a type of Indo-Pacific surgeonfish that is called a blue tang. It may seem harmless enough, but unfortunately Finding Dory has the potential to cause environmental destruction, all because a large swath of consumers in the United States are often incapable of seeing something they like on screen without wanting to possess it. Some marine biologists warn that if people flock to pet stores after seeing Finding Dory to buy blue tangs it could add significant strain to already over-taxed coral reef ecosystems and could seriously harm the blue tang as a species.
Scientists and researchers have precedent for being worried. After the 2003 release of Finding Nemo, clownfish flew off the shelves at pet stores worldwide, despite the fact that the movie is specifically about why fish belong in the ocean and not a tiny aquarium in a child’s bedroom. The movie’s moral stance on keeping fish as pets cannot be mistaken or overlooked. The movie is made for children and it doesn’t deal in subtleties, yet the clownfish was all the rage after its release. In research published by National Geographic, Andrew Rhyne, an assistant professor of marine biology at Rodger Williams University, estimates clownfish sales went up thirty to forty percent after Finding Nemo came out. The spike in clownfish popularity led to the organization Saving Nemo, which works to keep clownfish in the wild and out of fish tanks.
Dory’s popularity from the original Nemo movie has already caused problems. According to Hakai Magazine, consumers in the U.S. alone buy an estimated 300,000 wild-caught blue tang fish each year.. If American consumers flock to pet stores after seeing Finding Dory the impact could be even more intense than the Nemo craze since, unlike the clownfish, the blue tang cannot be bred in captivity. Hakai reports that all past efforts to breed the blue tang have been less than successful, despite researchers’ recently increased efforts in an attempt to prepare for the heightened demand. So in order to sell blue tang, pet stores must buy captured wild fish. Blue tangs can be found in a wide variety of tropical ocean habitats and have already been over-collected in Indonesia and the Philippines, according to National Geographic. And scooping blue tangs out of the wild, besides potentially harming the overall population of the species, could also harm coral reefs.
Reefs are delicate and diverse ecosystems that house fish, microscopic organisms, and other animals. Worldwide, reefs are already in jeopardy due to rising water temperatures and overfishing. Removing blue tangs from their natural habitats creates problems for the reefs they call home. On a basic level, less wild blue tang in the ocean leads to an abundance of the algae the blue tangs eat. Without the fish present, the abundance of algae on the coral disturbs the balance of the ecosystem.
The methods used to capture the fish could also cause problems. Even though it is illegal, some fish collectors use cyanide to stun fish in order to capture them. National Geographic reports as many as half the fish captured in the Philippines, including the blue tang captured there, have been treated with cyanide. The introduction of this poison to the ecosystem kills other organisms and damages the coral.
There is ample evidence that this problem does not start and end with Dory. Cute animals in a blockbuster film often end with hitting up pet stores. Trend-driven animal purchases occurred after the release of 101 Dalmatians and the New York Times reported that counties in South Florida saw about a 35 percent uptick in Dalmatian returns. After the new version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released in 2014 in Europe, Humane Society International warned moviegoers not to repeat the turtle-craze that happened in the ’90s when the original movie came out. After Ratatouille, even rats became the pet of the hour, according to Reuters.
The craze over clownfish after Nemo and the worry about blue tang now further reveals the consumerism involved with these movies, even when they purport, as in Nemo’s case, to rally against it. Filmmakers animate and make cuter and friendlier versions of animals, and in many ways this conditions us as children to accept a warped interpretation of humankind’s dominion over animals.
So let’s break the cycle, because there appears to be no limit to how far people will go in commodifying live animals in a quest to possess their very own copies of their favorite movie characters. In the case of Finding Dory the extent could be global, and potentially irreversible.
Sarah Asch is a summer editorial assistant at Tikkun Magazine and a lover of words in general. She is a sophomore at Middlebury College in Vermont where she is a staff writer for the school newspaper and is considering an English Literature major. Before working at Tikkun, Sarah was the Editor-in-Chief of her high school paper, the Tam News, and she interned at Hot English Magazine in Madrid. Sarah loves being outdoors, swimming, and traveling, reading, and writing.
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