Going in the Tank
Finding Nemo fans are racing to buy clown fish, but a happy ending may not be in the script.
Landing the lead role in a major animated film was a big break for the percula clown fish Nemo, star of Disney/Pixar’s mega-hit, Finding Nemo. Co-star Dory, a captivating regal blue tang, has also seen her acting career reach new heights—or should we say new depths?—in spite of self-evident difficulties remembering her lines. But what about the countless other clown fish and blue tangs that don’t possess the rare combination of talent, luck and intangibles necessary to make it in the big sea of the Big Screen? It turns out that Finding Nemo lovers have been darting out to aquariums, hoping to take home their own Nemo and Dory look-alikes. While fans’ hearts might be in the right place, real-life tropical fish may not provide the expected warm and fuzzy experience. If history is any guide, adorable talking animals make great movie personalities but their mute relatives don’t always make great pets.
Like most movie stars, percula clown fish and blue tangs are both shiny and beautiful, but neither “A”-list actors nor saltwater fish can be described as low maintenance. In fact, saltwater-types require a special habitat different than that of your average goldfish. For starters, a single percula clown needs a tank of 20 gallons or larger, one outfitted with a filtration system, lighting and either gravel or sand. If you want your clown fish to feel at home you’ll also need to include an anemone or some other partially enclosed hiding place. The blue tang is larger and makes even more grandiose demands, preferring a tank of at least 75 gallons that includes several good hideouts. Not surprisingly, this can get expensive, especially if you’re starting from scratch. According to Phil Scala of Beital’s Exotic Aquariums in Pearl River, New York, “you’ve got to spend $100 or more for one fish—and that’s without the fish.” A percula clown is a relatively inexpensive $15-25, but a blue tang could set you back sixty dollars.
However, the real challenge for the uninitiated is keeping up with the needs of these colorful beauties. While both are easy-to-care-for compared to most saltwater species, it’s still a major leap for those with no experience or those accustomed to dealing with freshwater fish. To begin with, high water quality is a must, while frequent partial water changes are also imperative. “You can go maybe a day without checking on them where with freshwater fish you can go a couple days. You’ve also got to make sure the salt content is right,” says Scala. “If the nitrates or ammonia goes up sky high you’re going to lose the whole tank.”