Clownfish and blue tangs may be taken from wild in increasing numbers for pet industry.
Finding Dory, the sequel to the 2003 children's film Finding Nemo has oceanic researchers in Australia worried as the film rapidly approaches its June 17 release date.
It sounds strange, but they have a very good reason. When the first film was a smash hit, it led to a decline in wild populations of clownfish and blue tang fish. The two species of fish were featured as major characters in the movie. And demand for these fish as pets rose in the wake of the movie.
While people wanted pets based on their favorite movie characters, it turns out clownfish and blue tangs are not bred in captivity like some aquarium fish. All of the fish sold are taken directly out of the wild.
"The film had a very strong fish conservation message, but instead people decided, because Marlin and Nemo were such charismatic characters, that they wanted a clownfish as a pet," Flinders University associate Professor Karen Burke da Silva told ABC News Australia.
Burke da Silva told the news organization many people who want the fish as pets don't realize most are taken directly out of the wild. "From our own surveys we've found that people who buy marine fish don't know they are taken from the wild," she said.
Actual studies have been done that seem to show a correlation between the film's release and demand for the fish. She told the organization 90-95 percent of marine fish come from the wild.
"In one year alone, 2012, over 400,000 clownfish were imported to America. Burke da Silva told ABC News Australia. "It was the fifth most imported species to America."
While clownfish can be bred in captivity, many are not. When it comes to blue tang fish, 100 percent of the animals in pet stores come from the wild. The species cannot be bred in captivity due to the way the fish reproduce. It sounds as if some confusion may come about simply because freshwater tropical fish are so easily and widely bred in captivity.
There are also concerns not just over how many clownfish and blue tangs are being taken by fishermen in some places, but the methods being used to capture them. "They sometimes use cyanide poisoning to collect fish. It is used as a kind of anaesthetic to knock them out so they can be easily collected in a short amount of time," Burke da Silva told ABC News Australia.
Studies have shown a majority of the fish collected die before they make it to a pet shop or family fish tank.
Burke da Silva is hoping to raise more awareness before the movie releases and is co-founder of an organization seeking to do just that called Saving Nemo Conservation Fund. She does believe the movies provide positive messages about conservation to audiences.
"What we hope is that people take that message home," she said. "Fish in the wild are going through enough problems due to global warming and coral bleaching, so the worst thing we can do is add to that by taking huge numbers of them from the wild."