National Geographic : 2010 Jan
• W set out to make an animated children's movie set in the ocean and faithful to "the real rules of nature," all he needed was the perfect sh for his main character. Comb- ing through co ee table books on sea life, his eye landed on a photo of two sh peeking out of an anemone. "It was so arresting," Stanton says. "I had no idea what kind of sh they were, but I couldn't take my eyes o them." e image associate at the Western Australian Museum and the world's clown sh authority---discovered the 29th species, Amphiprion barberi. at brought his lifetime total to seven clown sh (and nearly 500 species of reef sh). "I still get a huge buzz when I nd something new," Allen says. "A m - phiprion barberi is a beautiful clown, orange and red like a blazing ember on the reef." and aquarists, clown sh are also known as anemone sh because they can't survive without a host anemone, whose sting- ing tentacles protect them and their developing eggs from intruders. Of the roughly thousand species of anemones, only ten host clown sh. It's still a mystery exactly how a clownfish avoids being stung by the anenome, but a layer of mucus---possibly developed by the clown sh a er it rst touches an anemone's tentacles--- may a ord protection. "It's a slime that inhibits the anemone from ring o its stinging cells," Allen says. "If you ever watch a new little anem- one sh coming into an anemone, it makes these very tentative touches. ey have to make con- tact to get this chemical process going." us shielded, the clown sh, in e ect, becomes an extension of the anemone---another layer of defense against anemone-eating sh, such as the butter y sh. What's good for the clown sh is good for the anemone, and vice versa. Clown sh spend their entire lives with their host anemone, rarely straying more than a few yards from it. ey lay their eggs about twice a month on the nearest hard surface concealed by the eshy base of the anemone, and they aggres- sively protect the developing embryos. Just a er a clown sh hatches, it dri s near the surface for of sh in their natural hiding place perfectly captured the oceanic mystery he wanted to con- vey. "And as an entertainer, the fact that they were called clown sh---it was perfect. ere's almost nothing more appealing than these little sh that want to play peekaboo with you." So a star was born. Finding Nemo, the Pixar movie Stanton wrote and directed, won the 2003 Academy Award for best animated fea- ture and remains one of the highest grossing G-rated lms of all time, taking in over $850 million dollars to date. Nemo---a clown sh of the species Amphiprion percula---introduced millions of children around the world to a wondrous tropical ecosystem: the coral reef and its denizens. Clownfish get their name from the bold color strokes on their body (from rich purplish browns to bright oranges and reds and yellows), o en divided by stark lines of white or black, quite like the face paint on a circus clown. See- ing clown sh darting among the tentacled folds of an anemone is like watching butter ies it- ting around a owering plant in a breeze-blown meadow---mesmerizing. Twenty-nine species of clown sh live among the reefs from East Africa to French Polyne- sia and from Japan to eastern Australia, with the greatest concentration of diversity on the north coast of New Guinea in the Bismarck Sea (where with a little luck and a competent guide you can see seven species on one reef). On a re- cent diving trip to Fiji, Gerald Allen---a research James Prosek's book about eels will be published in September by HarperCollins. David Doubilet has photographed sea life in 55 Geographic articles.