With the success of Disney’s “Finding Dory,” which has grossed more than $400 million at the box office since its release in mid-June, there’s been a surge of interest in those pretty blue hippo tangs, also known as the palette surgeonfish, for use in private aquariums. That’s not surprising, given that in the 12 months after “Finding Nemo” was released in 2003, sales of clownfish jumped 40 percent.
There has since been a petition to place the little striped clownfish on the endangered species list, but there is a different problem with the lovely blue tangs, according to Vanessa and Matthew Parsons of Living Art Aquariums in East Quogue. Clownfish can be bred in captivity, but blue tangs can’t. And collecting tangs from the wild—as amateur divers are likely to do to fill a surging demand following the release of “Finding Dory”—causes lasting damage to the coral reefs in which they live.
“We really want to inform people that the Dory fish, hippo tang, regal blue, Pacific blue—they’re all the same fish—are really not an appropriate fish for anyone below expert level,” said Mr. Parsons, who noted that tangs also need a very large tank when they are kept in an aquarium.
“You can breed clownfish, but many of them are still taken from the wild,” he explained. “And they have had some success breeding yellow tangs and bringing the fry to adulthood, but only in the past year—and it was a huge big deal.
“With blue tangs, that hasn’t happened yet,” he said.
So did Disney—which shows baby Dory born at a marine biology institute—tell its audience a fish story?
“Leaving the theater with Matt was so funny,” Ms. Parsons said of seeing the film with her husband. “He was really riled up about all the inconsistencies and falsehoods in the movie. But that was the biggest one.”
Mr. Parsons was born in East Moriches, Ms. Parsons hails from East Quogue, and their mutual love of the sea and fish brought them together. Mr. Parsons is the fish and aquarium expert, and his wife handles the marketing aspect of their company, which was incorporated six years ago and installs both saltwater and freshwater aquariums. Living Art Aquariums also maintains more than two dozen large aquariums on the East End, many of them in homes and local businesses, as well as a few in schools.
Aquariums have always been popular, but they are becoming even more so since a study last year in the journal Environment and Behavior showed a real correlation between watching fish and a reduction in stress.
“A lot of our clients have high-stress jobs, and they really love having a home aquarium,” said Mr. Parsons, whose aquariums start at about $20,000.
One of those clients is Chris Schultheis of Hampton Bays, vice president and chief financial officer of Southampton Hospital, who approached the Parsonses about four years ago. The result was a half-wall, 200-gallon custom reef tank that serves as a divider between the Schultheises’ kitchen and living room.
“After a long day of work we enjoy winding down in front of our aquarium,” Mr. Schultheis said. “Our family has gotten to know the fishes’ personalities and we all have our favorites. And, because of Matt’s good work, we’ve been able to watch everything in the aquarium thrive.”
“Chris has been great because he’s trusted me all the way from start to finish,” Mr. Parsons said. “I didn’t have to fix anyone else’s problems. Any coral flourishes there. The fish are healthy and beautiful.”
The Schultheis family aquarium does have a tang—”The tank is more than big enough,” Mr. Parsons said. “The horses of the sea” is what he calls them. “They graze and travel in herds, and need to be able to ‘just keep swimming,’” he said with a laugh.
So which fish are a good choice for aquariums instead of blue tangs?
“Yellowtail damsel and blue damsels would be good substitutes,” said Mr. Parsons. “They’re hardier fish and far more forgiving for beginners.”