Finding Dory — At the Aquarium of the Pacific!

Originally published on June 23rd, 2016, at SharondaWoodfin.net.
Edited and republished at Sharonda.net on March 8th, 2017.

Activate your blog-reader’s GPS. This will be a long post, with a few twists and turns.

Egg Yolk Jelly at the Aquarium of the Pacific, June 22nd, 2016.
Egg Yolk Jelly at the Aquarium of the Pacific, June 22nd, 2016.

Linda and I finally saw Finding Dory this past Tuesday night. We’d been meaning to see it since it opened on the 17th. We waited until the 21st because Linda had the 22nd off work, and because Tuesday nights make for less-crowded theaters than Friday nights do. Theoretically, anyway. Plus, Shark Week is coming up! And so is this Cornell meets Queensland course about sharks I want to take at edX! And OMG! Late June is an awesome time to be a fan of fishes!

The first thing you need to know about Finding Dory is that it’s a fun film! Regardless of what you may read online, it’s better than Finding Nemo. Your first clue that this might be the case (particularly if you’re a grown-up), is that Dory garnered a PG rating, versus Nemo‘s G. There were a lot of adults seeing the film when we did, a lot of those adults were laughing throughout the film, and the whole thing — if you don’t count those in-credit scenes; how do moviegoers in the age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe not know that the end of the movie is no longer the end of the movie? — ended with a round of applause. Dory, like Zootopia earlier this year, is an animated film produced with more than just kids in mind.

Moon Jellyfish at the Aquarium of the Pacific, June 8th, 2013.
Moon Jellyfish at the Aquarium of the Pacific, June 8th, 2013.

And for those of us who have spent time as a caregiver to a loved one with dementia, Dory is going to hit home in a meaningful way.

Another thing that Dory hits upon is Morro Bay. Morro Bay is a coastal California town, just northwest of San Luis Obispo. Dory is from a place she remembers as “the jewel of Morro Bay”, which turns out to be some sort of aquarium (with a focus on rehab and release, if you believe Sigourney Weaver). But, in contrast to Monterey Bay and its Aquarium (which I was aware of before coming to California, even from the landlocked fields and pastures of Southeast Missouri), I’d never heard of Morro Bay. Once I was sure that it was a real place, and a real place with a real aquarium, I wondered why the folks who made Finding Dory chose it over Monterey. Or any other Aquarium with a capital “A”.

The only theory that really made sense to me was that, for whatever reason, someone wanted to call attention to the aquarium at Morro Bay. I can’t actually tell you that this was the rationale for making Dory from Morro Bay, but I can tell you that a quick internet search would be enough to justify that motivation. Colin Rigley’s 2012 New Times SLO article “The aquatic anachronism” — complete with documentation from the USDA and the NOAA — describes the Morro Bay Aquarium as “the saddest aquarium on Earth”. The Humane Society wanted the Aquarium shut down as far back as 2013. While the Aquarium’s lease doesn’t end until September 2018, the Morro Bay city council has already approved a contingent partnership with Avila Beach’s Central Coast Aquarium to replace the Morro Bay Aquarium.

Porcupine fish at the Aquarium of the Pacific, June 22nd, 2016.
Porcupine fish at the Aquarium of the Pacific, June 22nd, 2016.

But that approval didn’t come until January of this year. In the years that Finding Dory was in production, there were people working toward those plans (see KCBX’s 2014 article “Cal Poly, Central Coast Aquarium eye Morro Bay waterfront”; KSBY’s “Morro Bay Aquarium to change ownership”, and New Times SLO’s similarly-titled “Morro Bay Aquarium may change ownership”, both from 2015.) Whether the motivation for Dory’s geographic location came from the conditions at the Morro Bay Aquarium, the hope for a better future in that location, or someone throwing a dart at a map, I know that I’ve come away from the film far more aware than I was before having seen it. And I’d be willing to bet that I’m not the only person who decided to search the internet for Morro Bay after seeing the movie.

Finding Dory has raised other concerns, though, particularly among marine biologists. These biologists worry that demand for blue tangs as aquarium fish will rise, which could lead to both depletion of blue tangs and damage to coral reefs.

They aren’t wrong about the demand, if screaming children are a good gauge of such.

Giant Isopod at the Aquarium of the Pacific, June 8th, 2013.
Giant Isopod at the Aquarium of the Pacific, June 8th, 2013.

On the heels of seeing Finding Dory, given Linda’s day off, and in anticipation of both Shark Week and the online shark course I mentioned above, my wife and I headed to Long Beach yesterday, and we renewed our membership to the Aquarium of the Pacific. Every blue tang in the Aquarium was surrounded by kids screaming “Dory! Dory!” Sure, there were a few little ones screaming “Nemo!” at the clownfish, but the Nemo fandom couldn’t compete with the Dory section, in either volume or volume. Here’s hoping that parents are willing to say “no” when it’s needed, and to maybe channel that interest and enthusiasm toward a positive end, maybe even by helping places like the Aquarium of the Pacific to preserve species like the blue tang — and other, endangered species, too — so that their kids’ kids can see them one day, and not just in a cartoon.

Taking them to the Aquarium is a good start!

Visits to the Aquarium aren’t nearly as expensive as visiting some popular local amusement parks, but — if you plan to go more than once per year — membership makes it cheaper. And even the cool stuff you can purchase from the gift shop helps to keep the Aquarium funded.

The Otters Strike Back t-shirt from the Aquarium of the Pacific. Photo by Linda Mah. Used with permission.
The Otters Strike Back t-shirt from the Aquarium of the Pacific. Photo by Linda Mah. Used with permission.

I can’t give you directions from where you live (see the Aquarium’s Directions & Parking page for that); but from where we live, in Downtown Anaheim, the easiest way to get to the Aquarium is to hop on the 5 south, take it to the 22 west, and stay on 7th in Long Beach until either Redondo Avenue, Alamitos Avenue, or Magnolia Avenue — at which point the trip becomes a very real sort of choose your own adventure.

Pro-tips:

  1. Go south.
  2. Drive toward water (but never, ever into it).
  3. Rely on GPS.
  4. Take a straighter path than this post.