Dory is cute in the movie. But think twice before buying your own.

Finding Dory makes the Blue Tang popular again

The new movie “Finding Dory” has brought attention to the Blue Tang again. These saltwater fish are best cared for in aquariums at least 6' in length by experienced marine (saltwater) aquarists according to experts.
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The new movie “Finding Dory” has brought attention to the Blue Tang again. These saltwater fish are best cared for in aquariums at least 6' in length by experienced marine (saltwater) aquarists according to experts.

Dory — the animated blue tang fish who is a friend of the beloved fish characters Nemo and Marlin — made her debut in a starring role this weekend to large audiences in Columbia.

Her popularity, though, hasn’t caused a potentially harmful run on regal blue tangs at local stores. Merchants caution customers who fall in love with Dory not to rush into buying the real-life version.

“Finding Dory,” which opened Thursday, is a sequel to 2003 hit movie “Finding Nemo.” The original movie produced a run on purchases of clownfish, Nemo’s species, with sales boosted by 1 million. But clownfish are the only species of saltwater fish that can be bred outside their natural habitat in tanks, said Guy Griffin, owner of Fishy Business Aquariums on Bush River Road in Columbia.

Regal tang fish must be bred in their natural southern Pacific habitat and imported to the U.S. mainland for sale. A run on tang fish induced by “Finding Dory” could seriously diminish their population, Griffin said. Without experienced and proper care, thoughtlessly purchased tang fish might perish.

“It’s our job to try to tell people about the dangers of just jumping into it and being very careful if someone does decide to do it,” Griffin said. He added he has not seen an increase in tang fish sales since the movie debuted.

For starters, caring for regal tang fish requires working on tanks at least once every one to two weeks, Griffin said. The water must be tested often, the filtration must be serviced, and customers generally need to closely monitor the fish and tank.

Just setting up the tank for a tang fish or other saltwater fish would take two months, Griffin said. Generally, if Griffin sees a customer who wants a tang fish but obviously is not prepared to care for one, he discourages the would-be purchaser.

Tang fish have always been popular sellers over the years, Griffin said, in part because they are among the easier species of saltwater fish to maintain and care for. Some of Griffin’s customers have kept their tang fish for 15 or more years, he said, and some of the tang fish in his aquarium have been in the store’s large tanks for many, many years.

His business, which sells a full line of fish, will celebrate its 30th anniversary next month. About half of its business comes from the sale of saltwater fish such as clownfish, angelfish, sturgeon and tang fish. The other half comes from freshwater fish, such as angelfish, tetras, fancy guppies, goldfish and oscars.

Anna-Marie Richardson of West Columbia browsed the large, colorful tanks of fish and reef at Fishy Business on Monday. She plans to see “Finding Dory” later this week. “’Finding Nemo’ is my favorite movie,” the 20-year-old said. “It always has been.”

Dory is her favorite character, she said.

But she offered this advice: “Blue tangs get quite large and saltwater aquariums are very, very, very expensive,” Richardson said.

A large blue tang fish at Fishy Business sells for $250; the species can range in size from 1.5 inches to 6.5 inches.

At East Shore Coral in West Columbia, some customers last week had an increased interest in owning regal blue tangs, according to owner Dane Odom.

Fortunately, many of the customers who “want Dory” came in seeking first to buy the proper equipment for a ‘Dory’ to live in – a large tank or a whole-tank set-up, Odom said.

Others who wanted to buy the expensive, colorful fish on the spot — some motivated by their children after they saw the movie — were customers who already had proper tanks set up, Odom said.

“I won’t sell the fish to them unless I know what they have and test the water and make sure everything is up to par,” Odom said. “With this hobby, you can’t just kind of walk in, buy a tank, take the fish home and be all good in one day. It just doesn’t work like that. There’s a process to it.”

East Shore Coral, which normally sells about 10 of the reef fish monthly, sold out of regal blue tangs a few days ago, Odom said. But he expects a large shipment to arrive next week.

Nine-year-old Ellis Benson of Columbia and her brother, Miles, 12, saw the movie Sunday night at the Regal Columbiana Grande. Like elsewhere in the country, the theater was packed, the duo said. The movie took in $136.2 million last week - the most successful launch of an animated film in U.S. history.

“It’s funny, creative and just all-around a good (movie),” Miles Benson said.

Roddie Burris: 803-771-8398