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Animal movies promote awareness, not harm, say researchers (ox.ac.uk)
94 points by EndXA 57 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 23 comments

Yet in the past, Rascal the Racoon led to a big raccoon problem in Japan. It can clearly happen, even if it does not always.


The original study can be found here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13280-019-01233-7


> Representations of wildlife in television and films have long been hypothesized to shape human-wildlife interactions. A recent example is Pixar’s film Finding Dory, which featured a blue tang fish (Paracanthurus hepatus) as the main character and was widely reported in the popular press to have increased the number of such fish in the pet trade. We use Bayesian posterior predictive counterfactual models to evaluate the movie’s effect on three metrics of societal behaviour. Although there was an increase in global online searches for the blue tang 2–3 weeks after the movie, we find no substantial evidence for an increase in imports of blue tang fish into the US, or in number of visitors to US aquaria compared to counterfactual expectations. It is vital that an evidence-based discourse is used when communicating potential impacts of popular culture on human-wildlife relationships to avoid loss of credibility and misdirection of conservation resources.


No.. it's completely accurate.

>Although there was an increase in global online searches for the blue tang 2–3 weeks after the movie, we find no substantial evidence for an increase in imports of blue tang fish into the US

So, the part of the headline about "promote awareness" is wrong, otherwise we would see a decrease in imports? I haven't read the paper, not sure how they measure awareness promotion.

The title never says it causes a decrease, just that it promotes awareness, as a result of increased search volume. Seems reasonable to me...

Would more online searches not lead to more awareness?

No, but this comment is

There may not be a “Nemo effect” but it did seem like there was a “Dalmatian effect” in the past.


It seems like after the releases and re-releases of the 101 Dalmatian movies, the demand for Dalmatians as pets went up. However, a lot of them were later abandoned to shelters because they were more work than people anticipated.


Here is an archive link to the nytimes article http://archive.is/4Cp6W

Dalmatians are super high energy dogs and need a huge amount of attention or they will ransack your house to dissipate their nervous energy. Great firehouse dogs where you have a bunch of big guys sitting around 24/7 and want a dog to play with that also enjoys excitement on the level of going to fires.

They are absolutely not for the casual dog owner that leaves their dog alone in an empty home while the family works and attends school. Never do this.

1) Tropical reef fishes are very expensive and difficult to keep alive by newbies, needing a lot of modern technology and many study hours. Studying nitrates cycle is not a much wanted activity for small children, and reef fishes can't be housed in all homes. More affordable pets can definitely increase because...

1) ...For many people all fishes are equivalent, a fish is just a fish, so what they should measure is the small bowlfish/aquarium sales. I bet that a lot of cheap goldfishes were called Dory in those years before dying after a couple months.

Interesting - this sounds similar to Japan's "Rascal the Raccoon" problem[1]. I wonder just how many species have experienced similar surges in popularity at the hands of media.

[1]: http://nautil.us/blog/-how-a-kids-cartoon-created-a-real_lif...

Anyone can get a Dalmatian on a whim, taking care of a blue tang takes a lot more equipment and forethought.

Nobody is getting a blue tang/hippo on a whim, first they require a salt water tank, second they are not a cheap fish, third they need a pretty well established tank, any decent dealer will inform the customer of this. Clowns on the other hand can damn near survive in any water.

A priori, the most believable thesis to me would be that Finding Dory increased both interest in keeping blue tang fish as pets and generic internet searches about them.

It's also misleading to conflate keeping members of a species as pets with damaging the wild population. This is something that is obviously related in some cases (e.g. giant pandas) and obviously unrelated in others (e.g dogs). I don't know much about the ecosystem in which blue tang live, but I'd expect most aquarium fish to be more like dogs than pandas in this comparison.

Pet clownfish (like most marine species) are mostly wild caught - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amphiprioninae#In_the_aquarium

I believe Clownfish and blue tangs are all Least Concern. There is some concern that they might be threatened by overfishing as pets, but I'd say a much more realistic threat is habitat destruction (due to coral bleaching and pollution degrading the ability of damaged reefs to bounce back). Fish takes can be essentially embassies for the reef, and can be used to educate people on how important protecting the habitat is.

Hell, even for pandas, their status as zoo animals (and a national symbol) encourages China to protect their wild habitat (it's not like China doesn't have demand for more land).

Kinda depends upon the film, Bambi sure pulled in much empathy for deers, yet Jaws didn't exactly make sharks all cuddly for so many.

And that's where the 'harm' can come from. Wildlife conservation frequently requires effective management of the population. Bambi was incredibly destructive to the social acceptance of hunting and other tools for culling of wildlife.

Very true, deers in some area's do require population control due to the impending impact they would have upon an area. This you see play out in contained parks/area (ie - cut off) like for example Richmond Park in Surrey which closes twice a year for such culling, of which has David Attenborough as a patron. They do cover the issue here:- https://www.frp.org.uk/deer-cull-royal-parks-advice/

It is a balance and yes, the let's save everything mentality can play out detrimentality in society and that alas gets down to lack of knowledge upon the matter - always, which we see play out on both sides of the political spectrum.

Though another one still up in the air are Foxes, historically they used to do fox hunts to control the population - which I'd say is the other side of the fence as whilst the motives originally where good (farmers and foxes do not mix if large populations of foxes), the approach of the culling is a inhumane, barbaric and ritualised sport. So you end up with fox hunting banned, but without any other forms of control in place you end up with, and we have with foxes spreading into towns and see an increase in children and pets attacked, which has happened. But the hey they are cute patrols will overlook that aspect. It is a fine balance, one in which as a species we kinda hypocrite impose.

After all, I'm sure many animals if they could speak would say that humans need population management due to the environmental impact they have. Which in many aspects, opens up a whole new level of debate that nobody really wants to discuss. Though nobody looks at shark attacks upon people as environmental conservation oddly enough.

I wager Jaws promoted a lot of "sharks are freakin awesome" lines of thought. Not quite the same as cuddly though.

Maybe in some circles, but in general, they fared less better due to the film.

"Jaws: ever since this movie came out, shark-killing contests are run all over the world. On average, between 20 and 100 million sharks are murdered every year."


I don’t know about Dory and Nemo, given the incredible range and quantity of distractors in this day and age (which of the dozen movies that came out this week will you take direction from today?), but I know in the past the Lassie problem was both real and long-lived (from anecdotal discussions with animal welfare experts).

But that doesn’t take away from the point of this research and I don’t disagree with it. Movies like Free Willy, Rio, Balto, Fly Away Home, and so many others have definitely worked miracles for turning apathetic (or rather, directionless) children into compassionate adults that care about the plight of the animals we share this world with.

Maybe it’s just me, but I imagine that if I want anything at all after watching “Finding Dory” or “Finding Nemo”, it would not be a real fish, but a stuffed Dory or Nemo.


It's believable in the "Finding Nemo" case because keeping a saltwater tank is a fairly serious hobby to begin with. Someone who wants to get a clownfish because they saw one in Finding Nemo has more hoops to jump through than someone who sees 101 Dalmatians and decides that they want a dalmatian, or who sees Peter Rabbit and decides they want a rabbit.

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