By: Jessica Kittel
In 2003, the animated film Finding Nemo swam onto the scene. Viewers all over the world became emotionally invested in Marlin, Nemo, and their good, albeit forgetful, pal Dory.
The movie did epically well and we waited 13 long years for its sequel, Finding Dory, to grace us with its presence. We were finally rewarded for our patience when it premiered in June of 2016. However, as excited as we all were to see what had become of our little fishy friends, the film had a slight bit of controversy attached to it.
The Popularity of Finding Nemo brought a surge of interest in marine organisms. On one hand this was positive, it led to increased awareness of (not to mention support for) marine conservation. However, it also led to an increased trend of owning one’s favorite Nemo character as a pet.
According to Hakai magazine, the movie raised the Nemo (i.e. clownfish, Amphiprion ocellaris) sales nearly 40 percent. This wasn’t too detrimental for the Nemos, they are relatively easy to breed in captivity. However, the Dorys created a bit of a pickle.
Dory is a blue tang (Paracanthurus hepatus), a type of surgeonfish found in Tropical Pacific waters (nature.org). Their beautiful and vibrant coloring makes them particularly desirable in saltwater aquariums. However, scientists have struggled to devise a way to raise them in captivity.
This means that any blue tang currently found in an aquarium was taken from the ocean, National Geographic reported.
Not only is this unfortunate due to the fact that these organisms were removed from their natural environments but it’s also an issue because of the techniques used to capture them. National Geographic has stated that one of the main strategies employed to harvest blue tangs from coral reefs is the use of cyanide to stun the fish in order to make them easier to capture. The fish usually recover with minimal damage but this practice damages neighboring coral and invertebrates.
Luckily this will soon be a memory of the distant past. Researchers at the University of Florida Tropical Aquaculture Lab in partnership with Rising Tide Conservation and the SeaWorld-Busch Gardens Conservation Fund have recently announced that they have managed to breed and raise blue tang in captivity. This means that in the (hopefully) very near future, they will be capable of producing blue tangs to supplement the increased demand.
Until this breakthrough, scientists were never able to keep the babies alive for more than a few days.
Research began in 2010. According to Rising Tide, they identified blue tang as a potentially strong candidate for the aquaculture process based on the damaging collecting practices, potential market, and overall difficulty associated with rearing a species with small eggs.
Finding a way to overcome the issues that come with aquaculture breeding is easier said than done. One of the main challenges is inducing the parent fish to spawn and produce eggs in captivity. The eggs themselves create difficulties because they are exceptionally small.
If you can get past that step you’re then faced with the challenge of finding a way to feed and provide optimal conditions for the developing larval fish through each phase of their diverse metamorphosis.
This group of researchers has managed to guide their larvae through the most perilous stages of development resulting in 27 baby Dorys aged 52 days! With the advent of a new way to acquire these species we can only hope that saltwater aquarists will soon have a guilt-free way to own their very own Dory (disproportionately large eyes and memory problems not guaranteed).
Featured Image Source: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
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