What Kind of Fish is Dory?
When Disney released their live-action adaptation of 101 Dalmatians in 1996, the charm of the dogs onscreen had a significant impact on sales of the breed. So much so, in fact, that animal activists voiced their concern that people were buying Dalmatians without understanding their unique temperament, leading to scores of Dalmatians ending up in shelters.
What does this have to do with 2003’s Finding Nemo or its 2016 sequel, Finding Dory? Both of these films led to millions of people becoming infatuated with the friendly Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), who has a very poor short-term memory. An untold number of children left theaters asking their parents, “What kind of fish is Dory?”
As shown by the Dalmatians, answering the question has led to some significant issues.
Dory is a Paracanthurus hepatus, or Pacific blue tang fish, that is sometimes referred to as a royal blue tang or hippo tang. The name is slightly misleading, since the blue tang isn’t always blue. At night, without light to reflect off its pigmentation, it can appear white with violet touches. When it’s young, it’s mostly yellow. Blue tangs typically feast on algae, keeping coral reefs from becoming overrun with them.
Like many tropical fish, blue tangs have never been successfully bred in commercial aquariums (though researchers at the University of Florida may have figured out a way to change that). Instead, fishermen capture them with cyanide—either squirting some at the fish directly or pumping it into the water—hoping the poison will lead some of them to the surface for easier scooping. Obviously, adding poison into a marine environment isn’t what conservationists would consider a smart move. It can pollute waters, damage reefs, and kill fish, even some time after the fact (organ failure is not uncommon among fish exposed to cyanide). Some estimate that half of the living things that come into contact with that cyanide will die immediately.
As you may have already guessed, wondering what kind of fish Dory is is a little bit more of a loaded question than just finding out her species. A “real” Dory might be laced with cyanide, be aggressive toward other fish (particularly other blue tangs), and can grow to be almost a foot long—a far cry from the diminutive, lovable character in the feature films. Demand for the fish could also lead to population problems.
For all of those reasons, if anyone in your household is wondering what kind of fish Dory is with an eye on obtaining one, the answer is simple: She's the kind you should really be leaving alone.
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