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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, June 17, 2003

'Finding Nemo' spurring sales of clownfish

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Staff Writer

The hit movie "Finding Nemo" is doing for aquarium fish what "101 Dalmatians" did for dogs with spots — turning them into the latest pet fad.

The title character in the film "Finding Nemo" is a clownfish, and real ones are in great demand.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Bright orange-and-white clownfish and blue tangs — used to portray Nemo and his dad Marlin and the character Dory in the Disney/Pixar animated film — are in demand at pet stores and aquarium shops.

"It's mostly the kids asking their parents for Nemo. They know exactly what they want," said Frank Gornichec, owner of Modern Pet Center near Ala Moana.

The store has sold more than two dozen clownfish, at $25 a pair, since the movie opened May 30, and "everybody wants to know where the other one is, the blue one — the blue tang," Gornichec said.

Dory also has a lot of fans on Maui, according to Luana Mitchell, co-owner of The Fish Shack in Wailuku. She said a shipment of 12 blue tangs that arrived after the movie opened quickly sold out for $38 apiece.

One or two tangs share a 55-gallon tank with dozens of clownfish at the Maui store. Like the Modern Pet Center and other aquarium shops, The Fish Shack sells clownfish that were raised in tanks.

"When the movie came out everybody came in and said, 'Look at Nemo! Look at Nemo!' " Mitchell said.

"We're talking to a lot of families that would not have even considered a fish tank before, especially a saltwater tank. And some are calling to find out how they can convert their freshwater tank to saltwater."

Clownfish, also known as damselfish or anemonefish because of their habit of living with large tropical sea anemones, may be abundant in home aquariums in Hawai'i, but don't expect to see any while snorkeling at Hanauma Bay.

The fish, which can grow up to six inches in length, are not found in Hawaiian waters. They live in the Western Pacific and Australia, where "Finding Nemo" is set. Hawai'i has its own damselfish species that are nowhere near as colorful.

Three species of fish with starring roles in the movie are on view at the Waikiki Aquarium: clownfish, blue tangs, also known as palette surgeon fish, and Moorish idols.

In a bit of serendipity, the aquarium had chosen the distinctive clownfish to adorn banners and other promotional material long before the movie was released, said Director of Education Carol Hopper. Anticipating their popularity boost, a staff member who raises them at home brought in a tankful of young clownfish less than an inch long the week before "Finding Nemo" opened, she said.

"We have a big banner in the foyer with a damselfish, and the kids come in and look up and go, 'It's Nemo!' and then go around the corner to the tank with lots of little Nemos," she said.

Children in Hawai'i are pretty keen on marine life to begin with, and Hopper said the Waikiki Aquarium welcomes the additional interest sparked by the movie. Along with providing a rousing adventure story, the film also raises issues about being a responsible aquarium hobbyist, she said.

In the movie, little Nemo is scooped out of the ocean and placed in a tank in a dentist's office. Aside from commenting on dental procedures, the inhabitants of the fish tank spend a good deal of their time plotting their escape.

"Some youngsters may get the impression that they should go release their aquarium fish," Hopper said. This is not a good idea because it can endanger native species and it's illegal. Anyone who wants to get rid of aquarium fish should call the Waikiki Aquarium or take them to a pet store.

"Please don't release them," she said.

Children also should know they are not doing their fish a favor by flushing them down the toilet in a bid for freedom, as the movie suggests.

While treated sewage in Honolulu is released into the deep ocean, a fish's chances for survival are slim, said Gerald Takayesu, head of the Stormwater Quality Branch in the city's Department of Environmental Services.