Movie Release Threatens Second Animal Abuse Outbreak

PacificBlueTang2Pet stores are wonderful things. After walking in, one almost always finds oneself peering into cages and tanks to see what the critters are up to. Children can often be found excitedly pointing at clownfish and blue tangs in the fish section, all thanks to the release of 2003’s Finding Nemo. However, saltwater fish are not for beginners—a sad fact that led to many unnecessary deaths in the wake of the film’s popularity. With the June 17 release of the sequel, Finding Dory, experts have been anxiously waiting to see if the demand for these fish will spike again.

Back in 2003, when the original Finding Nemo was released, everyone wanted their very own Nemo for their children. More clownfish were harvested from the ocean than ever, so much so that the Chicago Tribune reported this May that the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to have clownfish put on the endangered species list. Now the focus is about to shift to Dory’s species, the blue tang. What’s more concerning is that while clownfish can be bred in captivity, blue tangs cannot. This puts them at an even higher risk for endangerment, or even extinction if pet demand soars like it did before.

Upon reaching out, Petco and Petsmart declined interviews on the basis of corporate policy. Looking into the stores themselves, Petsmart does not have a saltwater section in their Corvallis location, although Petco does have one in their Albany store. There they had warning stickers displayed on every other saltwater tank with a picture of a smiling Dory that said that blue tangs are not for beginners and to contact an associate for help.

While it is nice to see steps being taken to help stem the tide of post-Dory impulse buys, that problem is just one of many negative aspects of the fish trade. Petco’s shelves remain lined with classic goldfish bowls, despite goldfish actually needing about 30 gallons per fish with heavy-duty filtering. They also sell betta cubes and vases, though betas need at least 2.5 gallons plus filtering and heating to live a healthy life. This is made worse by the fact that keeping a tank that small healthy and cycled is difficult even for those with experience. Of course, they’re not the only ones. Petsmart sells a half-gallon betta cube with a divider, so you can cram two fish into an unfiltered soup of freezing, uncycled water complete with piles of excrement and uneaten food, for the price of one!

With Petco and Petsmart monopolizing the fish market in a way that normalizes what most experts would call abuse, where are responsible fish keepers and seekers to turn? The Animal House here in Corvallis offers a different perspective on animal welfare.

Dale Stepnicka, the owner and founder of Animal House in 1983, remembers when Finding Nemo came out. “There were a few more sales than usual… mostly to long-term customers. You can’t give in to making sales when it comes to animal life,” said Stepnicka.

Animal House tests every customer’s water before selling and asks about tank parameters. Robyn Harris, the store manager, said that they require buyers to own a fully cycled tank before they sell a fish.

“We make sure the person is educated,” said Harris.

Additionally, they take great care of their own fish as well.

“Fish that are shipped here are put into a copper system quarantine before being sold. Most parasites and diseases can’t handle copper,” said Stepnicka.

Not only are the fish quarantined, but they are sorted into far more segregated tanks than chain pet stores. Each tank has its own system of filtration to prevent the spread of disease. Animal House is also the only fish-carrying pet store in the area that has avoided being hit by the koi herpes virus. This is due to a dedicated breeding program. Every goldfish and koi the store sells is bred by Stepnicka, excluding feeder fish which are kept separately. This particular virus spreads easily and can kill just 24 to 48 hours after exposure, destroying the gills of the animal. According to one of Stepnicka’s books in the extensive library in his store, the death rate of the virus’ victims is 80 to 90 percent.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a pet fish after seeing Finding Dory, but when it comes to animal life, doing the research to properly care for a pet should be the highest priority. With fish species from the Finding Nemo series, many of those purchases in recent years have only contributed to death and endangerment. There are plenty of great starter species, and for many people fish-keeping can be a very rewarding practice. Maybe we should all just leave Nemo and Marlin to hang out in their anemone, and get a betta fish a nice five-gallon tank.

To learn more about responsible fish-keeping, head on over to Animal House’s downtown location at 646 SW 4th Street, or visit

By Moriah Hoskins