here’s yet to be any scientific evidence that fathers of lost clownfish travel hundreds of miles in search of their loved one, but it’s likely clear to most that Finding Nemo was indeed fiction. Still, a new study suggests there is some scientific truth to the popular Pixar film — baby clownfish can and do travel hundreds of miles on their own.
According to the research of an international team of marine biologists, baby clownfish can traverse distances of up to 250 miles looking for a new reef to call home. Scientists didn’t have to track a mini clownfish on such an epic journey; instead they used DNA analysis to determine two clownfish colonies off the coast of Oman were trading their young.
Newborns from one colony were swimming and starting their lives in the sea anemones of the other — and vice versa.
“This is an epic journey for these tiny week-old fish,” said Dr. Steve Simpson, a biologist at the University of Exeter and lead author of the new study. “When they arrive at the reef, they are less than a centimeter long, and only a few days old, so to travel hundreds of kilometers they must be riding ocean currents to assist their migration.”
Simpson conducted the clownfish research with the help of undergraduate and postgraduate students from the University of Edinburgh — taking a field trip to southern Oman to collect clownfish and take a tiny snip of their fins as a DNA sample.
“The southern coast of Oman is relatively isolated from the rest of the Arabian Peninsula so you find a lot of species there that you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the world,” Simpson explained. “There are only two coral reef systems along this coast, and they are separated by 400 km of surf beaches. In order to persist as a single species, we know Omani clownfish fish must occasionally migrate between these two populations.”
Scientists also found another parallel to the animated blockbuster: clownfish use faster water to travel long distances. Just as Nemo’s father used the wake of a marlin, baby clownfish use the ocean currents to take them where they need to go.
“We found that the pattern of migration corresponded to the dominant ocean currents in the region that are driven by the winter monsoon,” explained co-author Michel Claereboudt, a researcher at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman.
The study was published this week in the journal PLOS ONE.