What 'Finding Dory' Means for Our Marine Friends

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Why you should care

Because you can be a whale shark too! Well, kind of.

Jennah Caster is a marine scientist and director of product marketing for Waterlust.

Most of us remember the scene in Finding Nemo where the young, spirited clown fish is captured by a diver and whisked out of the sea and far from his dad. So begins the loving father’s epic adventure to find his son, Nemo.

Ironically, the popularity of the 2003 Disney-Pixar hit perpetuated poor Nemo’s quandary. Instead of fostering an appreciation for marine animals in their natural habitats, sales of real-life Nemos (scientific name: Amphiprion ocellaris) skyrocketed. And the aquarium trade scored a new top fish. Most people don’t realize that a staggering 90 percent of marine aquarium species are plucked from the wild, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme. If wildlife collection isn’t carried out in an appropriate and sustainable way it can cause irreversible damage to coral reefs, which are crucial for ocean health and maintaining biodiversity. Even more staggering are the methods used to capture tropical fish. A report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that up to 90 percent of the 11 million exotic fish placed in American aquariums each year are caught illegally with cyanide. The chemical compound is used to stun fish, making them easier to catch; it is also damaging to their environment and to other, nontarget fish.

People like University of Queensland associate professor Karen Burke da Silva are trying to combat the illegal pet-fish trade and the insatiable demand for real-life Nemos. She breeds certain species of clown fish in controlled settings to help mitigate the environmental impact caused by the fish’s popularity. There is concern, though, that with the release of Finding Dory, the sequel to Finding Nemo, another massive boom in marine reef fish demand for aquariums will be generated, one that the fragile reefs may be unable to support. Unlike clown fish, blue tangs (Paracanthurus hepatus) have yet to be bred successfully in captivity, meaning all pets come from the ocean. Blue tangs need sufficient space to thrive since they’re pelagic spawners. That means they mate in mid-water columns and release thousands of tiny eggs. Once the eggs are hatched in captivity, it is extremely difficult to keep them alive. This means that any Dory you see out of the ocean was taken straight from the wild.

As excitement, or “stoke level,” rises with the release of Finding Dory, it’s crucial to remember the underlying message behind the franchise: The ocean is a magical place, teeming with life, and it’s up to us to take care of our watery planet. At Waterlust, we have a way that you can express love for your ocean homies and still take a part of the deep blue home with you. Finding Dory has one very special character addition: Destiny the whale shark.

Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), are actually giant fish, the largest in the sea, and the slow-moving, docile creatures are listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Instead of taking Dory out of the ocean, we hope moviegoers will support research and conservation of her new on-screen BFF, Destiny. We’ve created eco-friendly whale-shark-print leggings, meant to be worn in the water, from recycled plastic bottles. Ten percent of the profits are donated to the Marine Megafauna Foundation, which uses these donations to purchase satellite tags that track whale sharks’ whereabouts, enabling us to learn more about them. The more scientists know about these animals through hard data, the better chance we have to support appropriate legislation to protect them. As whale sharks’ popularity will likely jump following the release of Finding Dory, so will the need to protect these creatures of the sea. Let’s make their Destiny ours too!

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