Dory’s real-life counterpart is a Paracanthurus hepatus, or Pacific blue tang fish, which is sometimes referred to as a royal blue tang or hippo tang. The name is slightly misleading, since the blue tang isn’t always blue. At night, without light to reflect off its pigmentation, it can appear white with violet touches. When it’s young, it’s mostly yellow.
Here’s a little more about what ‘Dory fish’ are like in real life—and whether one belongs in your fish tank.
Where Would Finding Nemo’s Dory Live?
As National Geographic reports, blue tangs live near coral reefs, where there’s plenty of algae—their main food source—for them to scrape off. It’s good for the coral reefs, too, since algae build-up has been linked to a decrease in reef health and could upset the food chain.
If you’re hoping to spot a blue tang in the wild, you should head to a coral reef in either the Pacific or Indian Ocean. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the fish are known to reside near Australia, India, Thailand, Japan, Guam, American Samoa, Kenya, South Africa, and a whole host of other territories.
Do ‘Dory Fish’ Make Good Pets?
When Disney released its live-action adaptation of 101 Dalmatians in 1996, the charm of the dogs onscreen had a significant impact on sales of the breed. So much so, in fact, that animal activists voiced their concern that people were buying Dalmatians without understanding their unique temperament, leading to scores of Dalmatians ending up in shelters.
In Finding Dory’s case, a 2019 study failed to find evidence that the actual purchase of blue tangs increased after the movie's release. But the discourse was full of questions about the ethics of owning one.
Like many tropical fish, blue tangs have never been successfully bred in commercial aquariums (though researchers at the University of Florida may have figured out a way to change that). Instead, fishermen capture them with cyanide—either squirting some at the fish directly or pumping it into the water—hoping the poison will lead some of them to the surface for easier scooping. Obviously, adding poison into a marine environment isn’t what conservationists would consider a smart move. It can pollute waters, damage reefs, and kill fish, even some time after the fact (organ failure is not uncommon among fish exposed to cyanide). Some estimate that half of the living things that come into contact with that cyanide will die immediately.
As you may have already guessed, wondering what kind of fish Dory is is a little bit more of a loaded question than just finding out her species. A “real” Dory might be laced with cyanide, be aggressive toward other fish (particularly other blue tangs), and can grow to be almost a foot in length—a far cry from the diminutive, lovable character in the feature films. Demand for the fish could also lead to population problems.
For all of those reasons, if anyone in your household is wondering what kind of fish Dory is with an eye on obtaining one, the answer is simple: She’s the kind you should really be leaving alone.
What Are Some Other Types of Fish in Finding Nemo?
If you’re just wondering about the Pixar franchise’s fish species out of pure curiosity, however, here are some additional details you might appreciate. Gill is a Moorish idol (Zanclus cornutus), another coral reef dweller. Bubbles is a yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens), from the same family (Acanthuridae) as Dory. Deb is thought to be either a four-stripe damselfish (Dascyllus melanurus) or a three-stripe damselfish (Dascyllus aruanus), though they’re usually black and white rather than blue and white. Nemo and his dad, Marlin, are, of course, clownfish—which have more talents than the movies cover.
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A version of this story ran in 2017; it has been updated for 2021.