I won’t disclose any spoilers, but Finding Dory, the much-anticipated sequel to Finding Nemo, has a very clear message: fish, octopuses, rays, whales, sharks, and other sea animals belong in the ocean.
According to the New York Times, the creative team at Pixar was in the middle of production on Finding Dory when the 2013 documentary Blackfish was released. After Blackfish, which shows the negative effects of marine animals living in captivity, public condemnation of SeaWorld began to grow, which caused filmmakers to push back Finding Dory’s release date in order to rewrite the script. The result of the rewriting is a clear statement against marine animal captivity.
People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is fully against marine animals living in captivity. According to PETA, “Tanks cannot even begin to replicate the complex world that these animals need. Some aquariums (even ones like The Marine Life Institute in Finding Dory that operate as a ‘rescue, rehabilitate, release’ facility) actually encourage the public to handle, touch, and pet stingrays in touch tanks where the harassed animals have no means of escape. Nearly everywhere touch tanks are offered, stingrays die prematurely: 41 of 43 rays died in the Calgary Zoo’s touch tank, 18 of 19 died at California’s Fresno Zoo, 19 of 34 at the Brookfield Zoo, and 11 of 18 at the National Zoo.”
Ever since Blackfish, the public has become more aware of marine animals stuck in tanks and the movement to end this kind of entertainment has been making headway. Just this year, SeaWorld announced that it would stop breeding captive orcas. Last week, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland announced that it would retire its dolphins to a sea sanctuary by 2020.
Although Finding Dory doesn’t go as far as to shame or condemn the Marine Life Institute or their aquarium partner in Cleveland (where many of the “rescued” fish are sent) the film does show through the struggles that the characters go through that animals want their freedom. As a captive beluga whale says to a captive shark at the fictional Marine Life Institute: “There are no walls in the ocean.”
The hope is that Finding Dory would inspire audiences to leave wild fish in the ocean where they belong, but experts are preparing for the opposite. After the 2003 movie Finding Nemo, where a clownfish was stolen from the ocean and forced to live in a dentist’s aquarium, clownfish sales skyrocketed. According to experts, 90 percent of clownfish sold are taken from the wild. Conservationists believe that this overharvesting, along with global warming and ocean acidification, have led to the depletion of clownfish populations in places like the Philippines and the Great Barrier Reef.
According to marine biologist Carmen da Silva, captive breeding is a sustainable alternative for clownfish. However, unlike clownfish, blue tang fish, Dory’s species, have not successfully reproduced in captivity. Da Silva says that this means that all the blue tang fish currently being sold in the aquarium fish trade, including the 300,000 that are imported into the United States annually, are all harvested from the ocean.
Last month, the Saving Nemo Conservation Fund launched the Million Kisses campaign, asking people to post their fish kiss selfies with the hash tag #fishkiss4nemo, with the hope that Ellen Degeneres, the voice of Dory, would join their cause and raise awareness about the aquarium industry’s harvesting of wild fish. For more information, see savingnemo.org.
Let’s hope that after seeing Finding Dory people will realize that all the “Dorys” of the world prefer to stay in their natural ocean homes, and not live in a tank. So go see Finding Dory, but leave the theater remembering one thing: “There are no walls in the ocean.”