I was concerned to read The Straits Times report about the rising sales of Blue Tang after watching Pixar’s ‘Finding Dory‘. Some retailers in Singapore reported an increase in sales as high as three times after the movie was released.
While I understand a parent’s love for their child and desire to make them happy, I hope that they would also take into consideration the negative environmental impacts of their actions.
The problem with keeping exotic fish such as clownfish and blue tangs as pets is that they aren’t as easy to care for as a goldfish. The fish have specific diets that can’t be replaced by regular fish food. To worsen matters, unlike the clown fish, it is challenging to breed Royal Blue Tangs in captivity.
If you are a parent who is thinking of bringing your child to watch ‘Finding Dory’, instead of giving in to your kid’s demands and buying them a Blue Tang, I urge you to spend time to educate them about the environmental message of the film.
Here are three learning points you can share with your kids.
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1) Big sea animals should not be kept in aquariums
Two of Dory’s friends in the film are Destiny, a near-sighted whale shark, and Bailey, a beluga whale.
The two are kept in large aquariums resulting in negative consequences. Destiny is unable to navigate properly and constantly bumps into walls. Bailey was initially not able to use his natural gift of echolocation.
Later on, when they both had to escape, Destiny was afraid till Bailey reminds her that
“There are no walls in the ocean.”
Though the movie never outright condemns aquariums or similar marine animal exhibits, it does send the message that enclosures are no place for big wild animals like Destiny and Bailey.
Being in captivity interferes with an animal’s natural processes, such as echolocation and swimming patterns. It also severely limits the space they’re given to move around.
In the wild, orcas and dolphins swim up to 100 miles per day. But captured dolphins are confined to tanks that may be only 24 feet long, 24 feet wide, and 6 feet deep.
They navigate by echolocation—bouncing sonar waves off other objects to determine their shape, density, distance, and location—but in tanks, the reverberations from their own sonar bounce off the walls, driving some dolphins insane. This explains Bailey’s strange behaviour, irritable nature and constant confusion in the first part of the film.
Life for a captive animal like Destiny and Bailey often “leads to a confusion of the entire sensory apparatus” which in turn “causes in such a sensitive creature a derangement of mental balance and behaviour.”
2) Touch pools are stressful for the fishes
While at the Marine Life Institute, Dory and Hank find themselves in a touch pool. The intense scene shows the touch pool concept, common to many aquariums, from a different perspective. The fish are horrified and absolutely unwilling to be touched by the children.
Hank himself had expressed that the Kid’s Zone was the scariest section in the entire park.
What the scene is trying to convey is that all those grabby hands breaking through the surface are horrifying and stressful from the fishes’ point of view.
On top of that, it is even be harmful to the fishes. Recent events have shown that touch tanks are death traps for animals. 54 stingrays died from an unknown toxin in the Calgary Zoo’s touch tank within three months after the exhibit opened. In another case, 21 stingrays died in the tank at Fresno Chaffee Zoo in California, and 16 died at Illinois’ Brookfield Zoo
With the examples of this scene, you could teach your kid something like “Look, yes it is fun for you to interact with animals. However, you have to take into consideration their emotions and your size compared to theirs. It might be a really stressful experience for them.”
When fewer children demand to be able to interact with sea animals, the aquariums will eventually stop offering touch tanks for children.
3) Littering in the beach hurts animals
After Marlin, Nemo and Dory hitched a ride across the ocean with a group of sea turtles to California, she arrive at a bay, polluted with trash and debris.
Suddenly, Dory, who has become entangled in a ring of plastic, is plucked out of the water and plonked into a cooler by people in a boat.
“No respect for ocean life,” one muttered, as the boat takes Dory to the Marine Life Institute and deposits her in a tank alone.
Using this scene in ‘Finding Dory’, you can highlight to your child about the disastrous consequences of littering in our oceans and how it causes the death of animals.
This constant barrage (the equivalent of 136 billion milk jugs each year, estimates a study published in the journal Science) poses a serious danger to marine life. Animals can get tangled up in this trash or ingest it—either because they mistake it as prey or because the plastic has been broken down into tiny particles by seawater.
As deputy chief executive Anbarasi Boopal of non-profit Acres (Animal Concerns Research & Education Society) shares, instead of buying fish, Singaporeans can instead volunteer with Singapore wildlife protection groups for coastal clean-ups or other activities that can help improve the wellbeing of these animals.
“This will go a long way for the blue tangs and clownfish in the wild, where they truly belong,” he said.
Children should learn that animals do not have the same needs as humans do (i.e. fish do not enjoy being touched) or think they do (i.e. living in a tank and being fed).
If parents ignore such messages in the film and simply cave into their children’s demands of wanting to own a blue tang, then I am afraid that the future isn’t well for both humanity and our marine life.