How are Nemo’s friends faring?


The animated clownfish in "Finding Nemo" created some problems for real clownfish. (Disney/Pixar/Via AP)

Who doesn’t love the adorable sea creatures in “ Finding Nemo ”? There are sea turtles Crush and Squirt; Dory, the Pacific regal blue tang; Bruce, the great white shark; and, of course, the clownfish Nemo.

In the movie, the characters face danger from predator fish, stinging jellyfish and even razor-toothed angler fish. But if Nemo were real and the fish lived along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef instead of in a world created by the animators at Disney and Pixar, could these sea creatures survive?

That’s what a group of Canadian and U.S. scientists decided to find out. It turns out that when trying to survive in a non-cartoon sea, being adorable isn’t enough.

Sixteen percent of the 1,568 species associated with characters in “Finding Nemo” 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.

In some ways, the Oscar-winning 2003 movie, in which Marlin works endlessly to save his son, Nemo, from being trapped in an aquarium, has added to the real-life problems. Because so many kids wanted to get a bright orange fish with white stripes after they saw “Finding Nemo,” people started overfishing clownfish on coral reefs in Australia and elsewhere to supply the aquarium trade.

Real clownfish, which live in the Pacific and Indian oceans, have become very popular as household pets. This has led to overfishing of the colorful species. (Natascia Tamburello)

While the report says that clownfish don’t face an immediate extinction risk, 18 percent of the species studied that are related to Nemo — a group that also includes damselfishes— are in danger of disappearing.

Many of the animals are in jeopardy because of people and their activities. Many sharks are being targeted to make the Asian delicacy shark fin soup; seahorses are considered collectibles. Other species, such as sea turtles, are having their nesting areas threatened as humans spend more time on the animals’ beaches.

A survey of the animals with speaking parts in “Finding Nemo” gives a decent sense of how these species are doing. More than half of all hammerhead sharks (in the movie, Anchor is a hammerhead) face a threat of extinction, according to the conservation report, along with all species of marine turtles.

Neil Hammerschlag, an assistant professor at the University of Miami who studies sharks, said many people don’t know that sharks are in jeopardy.

“They are truly the celebrities of the ocean,” Hammerschlag wrote in an e-mail. “Despite their legendary status, most people are unaware that sharks are literally being fished to extinction.”

For the four authors of the Nemo paper, this study meant a lot of time in front of the TV: They each had to watch the movie four or five times to make sure they didn’t miss anything. But Nicholas K. Dulvy, who co-wrote the study, said he came away with a better opinion of the film than when he first saw it eight years ago, especially after watching Bruce the shark struggle with his pledge to stop eating fish.

“They tried to portray sharks in a way more positive way than is usually done. But they showed them to be fallible, which makes them closer to reality,” he said. “I really enjoyed it.”

Sharks can be scary, but some of them need human help. They are in danger of disappearing because people want to use their fins for soup. (Disney/Pixar/Via AP)

— Juliet Eilperin

Juliet Eilperin is The Post’s national environmental reporter and the author of “Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks.”

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