What Kind Of Fish Is Dory? Why They’d Make Terrible Pets?

Mar 3, 2022

What Kind Of Fish Is Dory

The adorable and somewhat gullible sidekick from Pixar’s 2003 blockbuster Finding Nemo became so popular that she got her very own feature film, aptly titled Finding Dory, in 2016. 

We all know Nemo and his father, Marlin, are clownfish. But what kind of fish is Dory? 

Upon the release of Finding Nemo, clownfish became the poster child of the marine fishkeeping hobby. As a result, they’re ubiquitous in saltwater aquariums across the world. 

Is there any way you can raise Dorys too? Even better – can you raise Nemo and Dory in the same tank?

I’ll be answering all of these questions and some more in today’s blog. So dive in! 

What Kind Of Fish Is Dory? 

Dory from the film Finding Nemo/Finding Dory is a Royal Blue Tang – scientifically named Paracanthurus hepatus – from the Indo-Pacific region. 

The spirited blue fish with black stripes and a bright yellow tail goes by several other names, too, like Palette Surgeonfish, Flagtail Surgeonfish, Palette Surgeonfish, Powderblue Surgeonfish, Regal Tang, and Hippo Tang. 

I’ll be the first to admit that the name is somewhat misleading. The fish isn’t always a shade of blue. At night when there’s no light to reflect off its pigmentation, the fish appears stark white with some violet touches. 

And when it’s young, the fish is yellow. 

Anyway, what’s there in the name, right? 

Royal blue tangs belong to one of the 70 surgeonfish species, a group of fish notorious for sharp, venomous spines along the tail. These spines are typically held close to the body, but they can extend to form a daunting figure when the fish is agitated or threatened. 

They are normally found in warm waters at 2-40 meters depth and can grow up to 12 inches (31 cm) long! 

When young, blue tangs feed exclusively on plankton. But as adults, they are omnivores – eating both algae and invertebrates, including plankton. 

Dorys have a critical job to perform in the oceans and the seas. They graze on algae grown on coral reefs, which is crucial because it prevents the algae from being overgrown and crowding corals. 

Coral reef structures are indispensable for blue tangs who hide in the coral branches, holes, and crevices to dodge predators like tuna, bar jacks, and groupers. 

How Much Is A Blue Tang Fish?

Blue tang fish retail for anywhere between $60 to $250, depending on their size and availability. These fish cost the lowest in the fall when they are found abundantly. 

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Can You Raise Dory From Finding Nemo At Home?

It’s a bummer. No, you cannot and should not raise blue tangs, aka Dorys, in your home aquarium. Despite how lovable Dory might appear in the Pixar movies, they don’t make perfect pets. First, they grow almost a foot long and need a gigantic tank. 

Second, they have a nasty temperament. And lastly, they are often sourced illegally under inhumane practice. 

Before discussing why you can’t raise blue tangs at home, here’s some food for thought. 

When 101 Dalmatians was first released in 1996, it led to a surge in sales of these black and white spotted dogs that people bought them in a frenzy without understanding their unique needs and temperament, leading to thousands of dalmatians ending up in shelters the following year. 

The same thing happened to turtles and owls when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Harry Potter were released.

And when Finding Nemo came out, the public once again jumped on the bandwagon – subjecting the poor fish to tiny 1-gallon tanks – or even worse, flushing it down the toilet when the excitement was over. 

Clownfish were sourced in such an unsustainable manner that it significantly dwindled their population in Indonesia and the Philippines. 

Therefore, put on your thinking cap and rack brains before deciding if you really want to bring Dory home.

If you’re still on the fence, I’ll give you a few reasons why blue tangs don’t deserve to be in your home aquarium. 

Blue Tangs Are Costly 

As I said above, blue tangs cost anywhere between $60 to $250 depending on the size and availability. If you’re a saltwater fanatic, I know you won’t find the price outrageous yet. But let me get to the part that will cost you an arm and a leg. 

The ideal tank size for blue tangs is 250 gallons. A tank that big and the equipment that will go inside it will cost you anywhere between $3000 to $10,000 on average. 

I didn’t make up that figure, trust me. It’s coming from an experienced hobbyist and a trader of marine fish, John Nixon from Captain Nemo’s Aquarium Superstore in Pennsylvania. 

And I haven’t even started on the time and money you’ll invest in the fish’s upkeep. Unless you can pull a few tricks to monetize your blue tang tank, the price you’ll pay to raise it is unjustified. 

Just let them be. 

Blue Tangs Will Bring Disease To Your Tank 

For the cost you will incur to raise blue tangs, you’d expect them to be hardy and healthy little fish. But do you know they are so vulnerable to ich? 

Turns out these fish are incredibly prone to Cryptocaryon irritans – a super contagious parasite with a complex life cycle and the ability to wipe down the entire tank population at one go. 

Although retailers can keep ich at bay in the stores with copper, UV, and other treatments, the chances of blue tangs contracting marine ich after being introduced to a new tank are virtually 100%. 

I bet you know what you need to kill the ich and the consequences it will have on your corals and invertebrates. 

You Need To Feed Blue Tangs Thrice A Day 

Blue tangs have a voracious appetite. You need to feed them at least thrice a day. And just a sprinkle of fish flakes won’t suffice. These fish have a strong carnivore instinct. Therefore, they should be offered meaty meals on a daily basis. 

Also, plankton and algae growing in your tank will not be sufficient to fulfill their big appetite and constant need to graze. 

I don’t think I have to explain this point any further. I’d consider you lucky and privileged if you’re someone who can prioritize being home all day to prepare gourmet meals for your Dory. 

For most of us, it’s not possible. The time, money, and elbow grease you need to prepare a healthy, well-rounded diet for these fish are not practical for everyone. 

And by the way, don’t forget to factor in that they can live for anywhere between 8 to 20 years. So it’s definitely a long-term commitment/investment. 

Managing The Tank Will Be Challenging 

Blue tangs should be kept in environments that closely mimic their original habitat. It means you should keep them in a coral reef tank. And coral tanks are not everyone’s cup of tea. 

Anyone with the slightest idea about saltwater tanks knows how hard it is to keep a coral reef tank – especially for new aquarium keepers. The parameters are extremely hard to manage and mimic. 

What’s even more cumbersome is that it will be 6 months or more before the aquarium has proper environmental conditions to house your sensitive tang fish. 

Blue Tangs May Sting You

In the wild, blue tangs stab each other with the lethal, razor-sharp spines at the base of their tails all the time. These fish were grouped under the surgeonfish category in the first place because of their sharp spines. 

While maintaining the aquarium, there’s a good chance that these spines will get caught in the nets and inflict wounds and cuts on your hand. 

And it goes without saying other fish in the tank may bear the brunt of blue tang’s venomous sting. 

You have to be very careful with the handling. If it’s your first time in the saltwater hobby, I wholeheartedly recommend against raising blue tangs.

Blue Tangs Need A Very Big Tank 

Blue tangs grow to almost a foot in length within just 2 years. On top of that, they’re avid swimmers. Needless to say, you will need a colossal tank to house these fish. 

The bare minimum requirement is a 180-gallon aquarium. And that’s an aquarium over 6 feet long, 2 feet tall, 2 feet wide, and weighing nearly one ton when filled with water. And that’s just the right amount of space for a single blue tang fish. 

Tell me, honestly, do you think it’s worth it?

Managing tanks this big is not an easy feat. They demand a significant level of saltwater expertise and dedication that culminates after years and years of experience. 

If subjected to small tanks, blue tangs will turn more hostile than ever – stabbing their tankmates with razor-sharp spines and wreaking havoc. 

But I would still not blame the fish. When someone meant to swim freely in a big blue ocean is confined within 4 walls of a fish tank, there’s no doubt they will act up.

Your Blue Tang May Be Illegal 

Like many tropical species, blue tangs are exceptionally hard to breed in commercial settings. Therefore, there’s every chance that your fish was collected illegally from the wild. 

They are being collected rampantly from coral reefs – threatening their native population and the whole ecosystem. And do you know how they are collected in the first place? 

Fishermen capture them with the help of cyanide – either pumping it into the water or squirting at the fish directly, hoping that some of them will surface for easier scooping. 

Now guess what? Fish exposed to cyanide poisoning sooner or later will succumb to organ failure. You may spend thousands of dollars to create a suitable habitat for your blue tang, and the fish may simply die on you without any apparent reason. 

And let’s not forget the detrimental impact cyanide has on the water and coral reefs. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Credit: Nathan Rupert (CC License)

Is Dory An Angelfish?

No, Dory is not an angelfish. It’s a Royal Blue Tang. People often confuse dory for an angelfish as they share the same regal blue colors. 

How Long Do Blue Tangs Live?

Blue tangs live for anywhere between 8-20 years. But their lifespan in captivity is often compromised since they’re often subjected to less-than-ideal tank parameters. 

Are Blue Tangs Aggressive? 

Yes, blue tangs are aggressive fish. They’re even more unfriendly towards other tangs and surgeonfish. They don’t tolerate the presence of any fish that even remotely looks like them. 

Blue tangs are especially extremely angry when they’re feeding or spawning. 

Are Blue Tangs Poisonous? 

Yes, blue tangs are poisonous. These fish carry a toxin known as ciguatera. If you’re only slightly exposed to this poison, the symptoms will be limited to vomiting and diarrhea. 

However, you will experience headaches, muscle aches, hallucinations, and even heart and breathing problems in severe cases.

What Was Dory’s Role In Finding Nemo?

In Pixar’s 2003 feature animated film, Finding Nemo, Dory bumps into Marlin as he chases the boat that took his son. The duo then finds a pair of goggles with the divers’ address. 

And fortunately, for some reason, Dory knows how to read the address. And they soon find themselves in Sydney, Australia. But the journey to land down under wasn’t easy. The pair narrowly escapes a group of sharks and swim through a jellyfish forest. 

Thanks to Dory’s kind-hearted, outgoing, and innocent behavior, Marlin was able to take things lightly, even in the face of adversity. 

All in all, despite her short-term memory loss, Dory was a big help in reuniting Marlin with his lost son Nemo. 

It’s important to note that Dory’s character in the film was for more than just comedic relief. She sent out a strong message that disabilities don’t stop anyone from being joyous and heroic.

What Was Dory’s Role In Finding Dory?

Dory’s character in Finding Nemo became so popular that the blue tang got her very own film Finding Dory in 2016. As the film’s name suggests, the plot is about finding Dory’s origins. 

Due to her short-term memory loss, Dory has hazy memories of her parents and where she came from. As the film plays out, it reveals that the much-loved sidekick-turned-protagonist herself got lost when she was only a child. 

And with the help of a beluga whale named Bailey, a cranky octopus named Hank, and her childhood friend, Destiny, a whale shark, Dory sets out to find out her origin. 

The film comes to a beautiful ending when she is finally reunited with her parents, as well as Nemo and Marlin. 

Do Blue Tangs Bred In Captivity? 

No, there have been no recorded cases of blue tangs breeding in captivity. So almost all blue tangs available in the hobby today were caught in the wild – putting unsolicited pressure on the wild population.

What Kind Of Fish Is Nemo?

Nemo is a clownfish. It’s an ocellaris clownfish, also known as false percula clownfish or anemonefish. There are altogether 30 different species of clownfish, and all of them share an endearing symbiotic friendship with sea anemones. 

Nemo looks almost identical to the percula clownfish, but if you look closely, you can see some subtle differences between an ocellaris and a percula clownfish. 

What Kind Of Fish Is Gill?

Gill from Finding Nemo is a Moorish idol. Moorish idols are a peaceful species often confused for a surgeonfish as juveniles. But they are distinguished by the lack of venomous spines near the caudal fin surgeonfish are infamous for. 

Final Words: What Kind Of Fish Is Dory?

Dory’s character in Finding Nemo is based on a fish named paracanthurus hepatus – who also goes by different names like royal blue tang, hippo tang, and palette surgeonfish. 

These fish are among the 70 surgeonfish species feared for their sharp, toxic spines along the tail. 

As awesome as it would be to recreate the Finding Nemo setup at home, royal blue tangs don’t make good pets for several reasons, such as the need for ample space, costly maintenance, and poisonous stings. 

Recommended Readings!

Maroon Clownfish Care Guide: Everything You Need To Know 

What Do Clownfish Eggs Look Like? Sushi Roe? Picture Guide

Can Clownfish Change Gender? How Many Times?

rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.