Clownfish key to future aquaculture classes

April 08, 2013

Dr. Callan and Clownfish
Oceanic Institute research scientist Chatham K. Callan, Ph.D., checks on two adult clownfish, which spawned at OI. Several adult pairs spawned in March.

MAKAPU‘U POINT, Hawai‘i —  The new "Finding Nemo" sequel may have just been announced, but at one of the world's leading aquaculture facilities, hundreds of "sequels" have already arrived. About 200 baby clownfish now call the Oceanic Institute home. The clownfish hatched at OI, a research and teaching affiliate of Hawai‘i Pacific University, in late March. The babies now resemble their cute and colorful parents.

Famously featured in the Pixar animated classic, this popular aquarium fish species could become part of new ornamental aquaculture courses planned at HPU, said OI research scientist Chatham K. Callan, Ph.D.

"Clownfish were chosen because they are one of the few species that are currently cultured in the ornamental industry," Callan explained. "The vast majority of coral reef fish that are collected for aquariums can not be cultured and they're the subject of ongoing research."

Unlike many other popular ornamental fish — such as yellow tang, which OI researchers had successfully reared to several weeks of age — methods to culture clownfish are well-established, he said.

"Because it's a fish that can be reared, students can experience all aspects of the culture cycle," he said. Students can actively care for the adults and larvae, and raise live foods necessary so the fish thrive.

Also, because of a "relatively short," 1-month larval cycle, the fish can go from eggs to the juvenile fish stage within a semester, Callan added.

3-week old Baby Clownfish

After a few weeks, baby clownfish resemble their parents. (Chatham Callan photo)

The clownfish could also help OI study other species, Callan said. Researchers could test different feeds or environmental parameters on clownfish, where results are already documented, and gain understanding of how those factors may affect other kinds of fish.

Baby Clownfish

One-week old clownfish swim in a tank at the Oceanic Institute.

By studying aquarium fish and developing better culturing methods, Callan hopes to eventually see a reduction in the need to collect these animals from the wild. Coral reefs are an invaluable resource, he said, and OI’s work — which includes researching ornamental fish, establishing better broodstock and developing more sustainable feeds — can help reduce the impacts to coral reef systems.

While ornamental aquaculture courses are still in the planning stages, students now interested in learning about aquaculture, specifically clownfish, can contact Callan. He is looking for volunteers to help raise OI’s newest residents. HPU students may be able to earn lab credit for their time; contact Callan for details.

“This would be a tremendous opportunity to get hands-on experience working with these animals,” Callan said.

Contact Callan at (808) 259-3149 or ccallan@oceanicinstitute.org.

Watch a video of OI's new clownfish here.