In 2003, Pixar presented the American imagination with a tour of the world’s sealife led by America’s favorite fish, Nemo. But according to a new study, many of the species who swam on screen are close to no longer existing in real life. The International Union for Conservation of Nature found that 16 percent of the species found in “Finding Nemo” actually “face the threat of extinction“:
Sixteen percent of the species associated with characters in “Finding Nemo” that have been evaluated face the threat of extinction, according to the study, which was conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Canada’s Simon Fraser University. The analysis of 1,568 species is not just a whimsical look at American popular culture and its cartoon characters. It reveals how humans treat some of the ocean’s most charismatic inhabitants.[...]
The Oscar-winning 2003 Disney/Pixar movie, which details how the clownfish Marlin defies all odds to save his son from the aquarium trade, has a conservation message. But the film actually inspired a booming aquarium trade in the bright orange fish with white stripes, significantly reducing native clownfish populations on coral reefs in Australia and elsewhere.
While the IUCN classifies clownfish as a “species of least concern,” meaning it does not face an imminent extinction risk, 18 percent of the evaluated species that are related to Nemo — those of the scientific family Pomacentridae — are at risk of extinction. There have been few formal scientific assessments of coral reef fish populations that are sought by the aquarium trade, McClenachan said, so “it’s very hard to know the true extent of the aquarium, live reef and curio trade.”
Many of these species are endangered because of human activity. Sea turtles are vulnerable after years of getting caught in commercial fishing gear and getting their nesting area trampled or obstructed by development. More than half of hammer head sharks face extinction due to over-fishing and demand for shark fins. Indeed, “direct exploitation is the key driver of many of the species’ decline.” What’s more, they “are more threatened than the most threatened vertebrates on land.”
But not many of the species that are endangered and face extinction are listed as such. In fact, 40 percent of the birds, 50 percent of the mammals, and 80 to 95 percent of the other species like amphibians and insects that the IUCN recognize as endangered are not even listed on the official U.S. list of endangered species. This amounts to about 531 species that have not made the official protection list.
Researchers hope that the more people recognize the animals they see in movies like Finding Nemo, the more likely they are to care about human impact on them. These animals “got life histories that cause them to interact with people wherever they go,” said one researcher. “These are species that should be doing better because they are ones we care about.” Unless humans take notice, Nemo will be increasingly hard to find.