Environment

UF researchers solve riddle to finding Dory: captive breeding

University of Florida researchers have for the first time bred Pacific blue tangs in captivity.
University of Florida researchers have for the first time bred Pacific blue tangs in captivity. University of Florida/IFAS

University of Florida researchers may have unlocked the riddle to finding Dory: captive breeding.

For the first time, a team led by UF Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory Director Craig Watson has successfully bred the Pacific blue tang that inspired the Pixar star. With the help of Rising Tide Conservation and the SeaWorld-Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, Watson and his team hatched 22 fish that lived to 54 days and counting, a feat they hope may ensure the future of the reef fish that could become the latest pet du jour with the release of the movie last month.

It was a delicate, time-intensive endeavor, but one that has paid off.

UF Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory Director Craig Watson

“It was a delicate, time-intensive endeavor, but one that has paid off,” Watson said in a statement.

Blue tangs can be found in coastal waters and reefs from New York to Brazil and are among the most popular in saltwater aquariums. Although the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which monitors wildlife worldwide, has not found evidence of their decline, the organization has recommended continued monitoring. A bigger worry is the way the fish are caught: using squirt bottles filled with ground cyanide, which stun the fish and damage reefs. The World Resources Institute has reported the practice widely used in Southeast Asia, which supplies much of the reef fish to North America and Europe.

Watson and his team began looking into captive breeding the fish about six years ago. But the complexities of aquaculture repeatedly foiled efforts: The fish repeatedly died after just a few days. Only a single fish lived to 21 days.

Then last October, a team at the University of Hawaii successfully bred a yellow tang. Rising Tide stepped in and connected the two teams and UF’s Kevin Barden made the trip from Ruskin to study the methods. In May, just before the release of “Finding Dory,” the team launched the new, successful effort.

“As the weeks ticked by, the fish started behaving and growing like nothing seen before,” Watson said. “And, on day 52 the first baby ‘Dory’ was photographed with 26 siblings in a greenhouse in Ruskin, Florida. It had finally developed the blue and black color, and was thriving in the tank.”

Pass out the cigars.

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