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How does the real science behind 'Finding Dory' and 'Finding Nemo' hold up?




Still from the new film, Finding Dory.
Still from the new film, Finding Dory.

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Pixar's "Finding Dory," the long-awaited sequel to "Finding Nemo," opened in theaters all over America this month. KPCC's critics liked it OK, but what about the science?

Milton Love is a marine biologist at UC Santa Barbara. He says the film's animators did a great job showing the biology of these fish accurately — they look pretty darn realistic, right? But it's not perfect.

Finding Nemo trailer

First: gender. Remember how Nemo lost his mom in the original film? Impossible. 

"Nemo is an anemone fish, and anemone fish all over the world are what are called 'sequential hermaphrodites,'" said Love. Wait, what does that mean?

"If the female dies, the male becomes the female. And the largest juvenile becomes the new male."

Finding Dory trailer

That doesn't mean Dory — the perpetually forgetful blue tang — is off the hook.

"Nobody seems, at least in the movies, to be terribly concerned about the memory issue. They're concerned about finding her," said Love.

Love says reef fishes generally have very good memories. They're territorial fish — if they can't remember where their territory is, how do they defend it? Or feed in it?

Dory should know where her home is, then, right? "The fact that she can't speaks of some real problems. And it's probably not senility — that would be where we would first go," said Love. Fish generally don't get senility.

"What I fear is going on — and which is being given short shrift by the film — is that she's suffering parasitic worms in her brain," Love said.

It's as serious as it sounds. Parasites like that alter a fish's behavior, and let them be more easily eaten by predators. 

Lastly, the fish in Nemo's universe exhibit a plethora of dialects and accents. How about that?

"I don’t think they’ve ever looked at accents, but many fishes do communicate with sounds — all kinds of sound; croaks and strumming sounds," said Love. 

At the end of the day, creative license wins out. And brain parasites are gross, anyway.

Finding Nemo emoji