Should you Really Find Nemo?

Caption: We all recognize the colorful and exotic fish from Finding Nemo - and they can be kept in real life, but only with dedication and research. (Photo from Google Creative Commons)

At one point or another, almost everyone has wanted a fish tank. With the 20th Anniversary of Finding Nemo approaching, it is important to know that while a flourishing saltwater aquarium is possible – It absolutely does not look like the one from the dentist’s office in the film.

For starters, saltwater fish need live rock and live sand, neither of which are present in the Dentist’s aquarium. The gaudy and loud volcano, tiki idols, some forty plastic plants, and a cheap bubbling treasure chest do not cut it for these delicate animals. It looks tacky and is reminiscent of a child’s first aquarium, and more suitable for freshwater, if that.

The dentist’s tank also looks to be no larger than 55 gallons. This is a perfectly suitable size for many saltwater fish, but not for most of the fish in the tank, with many of these fish being incompatible.

Nemo – Ocellaris Clownfish

(Photo by Noah Derucher)

Clownfish are probably the easiest fish to keep in the whole saltwater hobby. They are mostly peaceful, stay small (around three inches) and don’t need much space.

Clownfish should be kept in a minimum tank size of 10 gallons, as the only two fish in the tank, but 20 is better for a beginner. 

Anemones, which are the natural home of these fish in the wild,  are not required to keep clownfish, which is great because anemones are difficult to keep long term.

Clownfish CAN spawn in the aquarium but the fry are nearly impossible to raise to adulthood, and if you have more than two – there will be bloodshed.

Dory – Hippo Tang

(Photo from Google Creative Commons)

Dory was not in the fish tank with Nemo, but most people that are interested in keeping fish from the movie would want to keep Dory.

Hippo Tangs swim hundreds of miles a day, and they can get large, almost up to a full foot in length. I would recommend a minimum of 125 gallons, a six foot tank. 

You will often see them as little one or two inch fish in the store, but you shouldn’t be fooled by that – they will grow large, and they will become territorial in a small tank. Many beginners will buy this fish for a tank that is too small, planning to “upgrade.” Most likely, these people won’t end up upgrading,

A successful keeper of a Hippo Tang is either an experienced fishkeeper or a dedicated beginner with the right sized tank and good water quality.

Gill – Moorish Idol

(Photo from Google Creative Commons)

Moorish Idols are undoubtedly one of the most gorgeous fish in the ocean, and they are my personal favorite fish.

Unfortunately, they are insanely difficult to keep in aquariums. They are very picky eaters and prefer sponge, which is almost impossible to grow in an aquarium. They often arrive in fish stores emaciated and on death’s doorstep. 

Most of the most experienced fishkeepers have tried one – and getting them to live more than three months in captivity is a success. You need one that is already eating, and a tank with pristine water quality of at least 100 gallons, due to its maximum size of about 9 inches. 

Tank mates should not be aggressive, and there should not be many fish added after it.

If you desperately want this fish – plan your whole tank around it. 

Bloat – Porcupine Pufferfish

(Photo from Google Creative Commons)

Everyone tends to fall for the pufferfish on account of their huge eyes, big personality, and of course their unique ability to puff up.

However, they get large, often easily exceeding 10 inches. This is why they really should be kept in a tank of no less than 150 gallons. 

Puffers are not reef safe – they are safe with some corals but they tend to eat shrimp, crabs and other small invertebrates. In fact, they may even eat clownfish. Nemo probably would’ve died in that tank.

Puffers also nip the fins of fish like the Moorish Idol and have been known to rip the skin off of some of the more delicate tangs. It would be best to either keep this fish with other predatory fish, such as large angelfish, triggerfish, and large wrasses. 

Deb – Black and White Humbug Damselfish

(Photo from Google Creative Commons)

Deb is a damselfish. In real life, they are black and white, not blue and white as shown in the film. She appears to be a hybrid of multiple species of damselfish. She has the blue color of the Blue Devil Damselfish, the stripes of the humbug and the tail of the four-stripe damselfish.

I would not recommend this fish. Even though they stay small (3-4 inches), and are very cheap, around five dollars, and very hardy, they are bullies. They will harass just about anything new in your tank and have been known to kill fish 2-3 times their size. 

If you really want a damselfish, consider the Kupang or Yellowtail damsels. They are slightly more expensive (think closer to $20 than $5) but it would be preferred to spending lots of money on a tank just to have these fish take it over. 

I’d recommend a minimum of 25 gallons with your other fish added first. 

Bubbles – Yellow Tang

(Photo from Google Creative Commons)

Yellow tangs are a staple of the saltwater hobby, but unfortunately, Hawaii, the primary source of collection for these fish, has banned the ornamental fish trade. Since then, they have SKYROCKETED in price from the norm of 40-50 dollars, to 400-500. 

They are now available as tank raised specimens, but even those are around $200.

The plus of this fish is that they can be kept in tanks of at least 60 gallons and are a very easy tang to keep. They get up to 8 inches and are relatively aggressive, so you’ll want to add this fish last to your tank, unless the aquarium is large.

They can be prone to a disease known as head and lateral line erosion so make sure you keep up with its herbivorous diet.   

Gurgle – Royal Gramma Basslet

(Photo by Noah Derucher)

The Royal Gramma is a striking purple and yellow jewel of a fish. Originating from the Caribbean, they tend to be cave dwellers, so don’t be concerned if you rarely see this fish. They are common in aquariums and are relatively inexpensive.

They are a perfect starter fish and only require about a 20 gallon aquarium, but bigger is always bigger. They are peaceful but not to their own kind, so just get one. 

These fish have a quirky personality and they will often swim upside down. Their colors change with their mood as well.

These can be mistaken for the less colorful and very aggressive bicolor dottyback so ensure you have the right fish. They have similar care requirements but dottybacks are known to be problems. 

Peach – Sea Star

(Photo from Google Creative Commons)

Starfish are technically not fish, but invertebrates. Peach appears to be an Ochre Starfish, the same species as Patrick from Spongebob. These animals are native to the Pacific Coast of the United States and are huge, and not available in the aquarium industry.

Starfish in general are incredibly sensitive to changes in water quality and require an established tank (think 6 months or more). They are definitely an “intermediate” type of animal. 

Not all of them are reef safe or even fish safe so make sure you know what you’re buying.

Jacques – Cleaner Shrimp

(Photo from Google Creative Commons)

Cleaner shrimp are the perfect aquarium invertebrates. They are affordable, and can go in any size tank.

They act as a cleanup crew, helping to rid your tank of algae and sometimes pairing with fish known as gobies and burrowing in the sand. They are more nocturnal and will be mostly out at night.

Sometimes, they will climb onto the side of the fish and clean it. 

The Hobby as a Whole

Many people are drawn to the hobby because of Finding Nemo, but the people that actually stay and put in the time and effort often develop a thriving reef and love of the ocean.

There are thousands of species of marine fish out there that aren’t featured in the movie. Fish like wrasses, butterflyfish, angelfish, hawkfish and gobies shouldn’t get overlooked because of a movie.

As long as patience, time and effort is put into your aquarium, you will go far. 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.