SUBJECTS — Marine Biology (Science/Technology);


MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect, Responsibility.

AGE: 8 – 12; MPAA Rating — G;

Animation; 100 minutes; Color. Available from

For children ages, 5 – 8 see Finding Nemo – Talking and Playing for Growth.

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TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.


Film Study Worksheet for ELA Classes and

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.


Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class.


Nemo, a young clownfish, strays from the safety of the Great Barrier Reef and is captured by a diver. Placed in a dentist’s aquarium in an office with an ocean view, he finds a group of fish with an escape plan. Meanwhile, Nemo’s father searches for his son, meeting a number of ocean creatures along the way. Luck and Disney screenwriting lead to a happy reunion.


Selected Awards:

2004 Academy Awards: Best Animated Feature; 2004 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Music, Original Score; Best Sound Editing; Best Writing, Original Screenplay.


Featured Actors:

Albert Brooks voice of Marlin; Ellen DeGeneres voice of Dory; Alexander Gould voice of Nemo; Willem Dafoe voice of Gill; Brad Garrett voice of Bloat; Allison Janney voice of Peach.



Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich.


“Finding Nemo” can be used to jump-start the natural interest that children have in ocean life, coral reefs, and marine biology. It also teaches lessons about friendship, obeying parents, and avoiding dangerous situations.

This Learning Guide provides information about the animals featured in the movie. The Guide can also be used as the basis for a longer discussion of concepts from biology and coral reefs. Discussion questions focus on the animals shown in the film, biological concepts, and the film’s lessons for social-emotional learning.




This film provides an excellent example of what can happen when kids disobey their parents and place themselves at risk. You may confront the issue directly and ask “How did Nemo get into all that trouble?” However, since children identify with Nemo, it may be better to approach the question obliquely. The comment about how lucky Nemo was to get out of the dentist’s fish tank and how lucky he was that his father survived all the dangers of the long swim when he was searching for Nemo. The kids know very well that Nemo disobeyed his father and, as a result, was captured.

Another idea is to go through the types of sea animals which are characters in the film. Show your child a photograph of the real animal (contained in the Helpful Background to this Learning Guide) and repeat one or two of the interesting facts about the animal contained that section. Parents can also talk about how coral reefs form and their similarities to cities.


Clownfish — Nemo and Marlin belong to one of about 27 species of clownfish. Their scientific name is amphiprion ocellaris. Clownfish are small and often brightly colored. They belong to the damselfish family. They are 2 – 5 inches (5 – 12.5 cm) long. They live in tropical waters. Clownfish are often sheltered by an anemone with whom they

have a symbiotic relationship. In fact, most of the scientific literature refers to them as “anemone fish.” Clownfish are not immune to the poison in the anemone’s tentacles and at first appear to be stung by them. Scientists believe that by dancing up against the tentacles for a time clownfish develop a protective mucous covering. Clownfish eat leftovers from fish consumed by anemone, planktonic crustaceans, and algae. Clownfish also eat the dead tentacles of their host anemone. Eggs are laid in large batches, usually near and sometimes within the host anemone.

Clownfish are not eaten by man, but their bright colors make them popular for saltwater aquariums. Divers have damaged many reefs looking for prime specimens. Clownfish live in the tropical parts of the Pacific and Indian Oceans or where warm, tropical waters are carried by currents, such as the east coast of Japan

Pacific Blue Tang — Dory’s real-life models (paracanthurus hepatus) are members of the surgeonfish family. They were given this name because sharp, moveable spines on both sides of their tails were thought to resemble surgeons’ scalpels. These spines are for defense. A fisherman trying to hold a blue tang can suffer a deep and painful wound if the fish tries to escape by giving a twist of its tail. The fish are blue with a yellow tail and a black stripe along the upper portion of their body. They live on zooplankton< and can grow to be about 12 inches (31 cm.) long. Pacific blue tangs are found in the central and Indo-Pacific from Africa’s East coast to Micronesia.

A different species of surgeonfish, found in the Atlantic Ocean and without a yellow tail, is also called a blue tang. It eats only algae.

Loggerhead Sea Turtles — Usually about to 3 feet (1 m) in length and weighing 350 to 400 pounds (182 kg) loggerhead sea turtles (caretta caretta) reach maturity at between 16 and 40 years. Sightings of 5 foot long turtles weighing as high as 1000 pounds have been recorded. Loggerheads mate in late March through early June. Eggs are laid throughout the summer in shallow pits dug in open beaches. After laying her eggs, the female turtle covers them with sand and leaves. Biologists are not sure where juvenile turtles grow, but it is thought they inhabit floating islands of seaweed where they feed and grow to young adult size.

Loggerheads live in most of the tropical and temperate coastal waters around the globe. They are, for example, the most common turtles in the Mediterranean, in the oceans around the U.S., and in the coastal ocean waters of Brazil etc. In the Atlantic, their range is from Newfoundland to Argentina, including the Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean sea. Their major nesting beaches in the United States are in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

The loggerhead is named for its disproportionately large head (when compared with other turtles), which may measure 9 inches wide (25 cm). It has a heart-shaped reddish brown shell. The usual life span is 30 – 50 years.

Loggerheads have powerful jaws designed to crush shellfish. They eat mollusks, such as shrimp, horseshoe crabs, blue crabs, clams, and mussels. They also eat invertebrates and some types of sea grasses.

Loggerheads can see well underwater and are believed to have an acute sense of smell. They breath air and when active must swim to the surface after a few minutes. When they are resting, they can remain underwater for as long as two hours. Loggerheads migrate the breadth of the Pacific Ocean, often traveling along ocean currents.
Loggerhead turtles are a threatened species. Their population has declined as they drown in fishing nets and as land animals, such as raccoons, cats and dogs, prey upon their eggs. Development also harms turtles by encroaching upon their beaches and confusing the innate directional signals of hatchlings.

The East Australia Current

The “EAC” flows along the eastern shore of Australia carrying warm water toward the south. It has its origins in the Coral Sea, beginning as a surface stream. It is strongest in summer and weakest in winter. The EAC carries 5-10 million cubic liters per second, with a strong influence to depths of 500 meters and as wide as 200 kilometers. It causes eddies in the ocean as broad as 200 kilometers across, rotating mainly counterclockwise at up to four knots at the edge. The eddies can be more than one kilometer deep and last up to a year.

Concepts from Biology

The food chain describes the fact that each living creature survives by feeding on plants or other animals. Plants are always the base of the food chain. The animals that eat the plants are one link up the food chain. When the plant-eating animal is killed and eaten by another animal, it is said that the animal who is eating is higher on the food chain than the animal being eaten. In the ocean the base of the food chain is phytoplankton, or algae, plants that live near the surface of the water (to get maximum sun). The term “plankton” comes from the Greek word “planktos,” which means “drifting.” Phytoplankton range from microscopic organisms to sea weed. Phytoplankton are eaten by small fish and by zooplankton, a class of plankton-eating microscopic animals that includes single-celled animals, larvae of larger animals, and tiny crustaceans. The zooplankton are then eaten by small fish and some whales. The small fish are eaten by larger fish, and those are eaten by even larger fish and so on up the food chain. A species is at the top of its food chain if there are no animals which kill and eat it regularly. For example, sharks, lions, human beings, and elephants are said to be at the top of their food chains. Whales were at the top of their food chain until man started to hunt and kill them.

An animal that catches another animal and eats it is called a predator. Most fish are predators. Predators must have some advantage over their prey, the animals they eat, in order to capture them. For example, the predator must be faster or must use surprise and ambush. Some predators just sit and wait. Stonefish and scorpionfish are covered with small patches of bright color that look like a colony of algae. The rest of their body is camouflaged to look like the sea floor. Small fish come to eat the algae, not recognizing the larger outlines of the predator. Corals are also predators that sit still and wait for their prey. Their tentacles have a poison that kills or injures their prey and draws it into their mouths. Some predators, such as the moray eel, hide in holes or tunnels in the coral reefs and ambush their prey as it swims by. There are as many different strategies for catching prey as there are predators in the ocean. The most efficient and fearsome predator of all is man who, through livestock-raising, fish farming, hunting, and fishing, preys upon more species than any other animal.

Most species in the ocean are also prey to other animals. Corals, for example, are eaten by parrotfish, butterfly fish, and a starfish called the crown of thorns. In one day, a single crown of thorns starfish can eat all the coral polyps in an area the size of a dollar bill. Most species that are prey to others also have strategies to avoid being captured. These include speed, camouflage, disruptive patterns (which break up the outline of a fish and make it harder for predators to see it), eyespots (markings on various parts of the body that look like eyes which take attention away from the fish’s head), countershading (in which the fish looks dark on top and light on the bottom, contrary to what other fish expect in an environment in which light comes down from the surface of the water), hiding, and dispersal. Dispersal means having many young and dispersing them over a wide area so that some will survive to carry on the species. Often, the defenses employed by prey animals are aimed at preserving the species rather than individual members of the species. Just as predators employ many different strategies for catching prey, there are many different strategies for avoiding capture.

Scavengers are creatures who keep the environment clean by eating the flesh and bone that predators leave behind. Scavengers don’t usually kill their own prey. In the ocean, scavengers such as shrimp, crabs, and sea cucumbers keep the ocean floor clean by eating bits and pieces of fish that the predators leave behind.

All animals constantly interact with other animals and plants. Some of the different types of relationships are: symbiotic, commensal, parasitic, and predatory. Symbiosis occurs when two different living organisms associate together and where there is benefit to both of them. Here are just a few examples: (1) Clownfish live within the stinging tentacles of anemones. The anemone provides protection and food for the clownfish who in turn cleans the anemone of debris. Clownfish may even swim out onto the reef and with their bright colors lure other fish to their host anemone to be stung and trapped in the tentacles. (2) When a hermit crab carries an anemone on its shell, little fish won’t bite the hermit crab for fear of being poisoned and eaten by the anemone. The anemone gets a free ride to places in which it can find new sources of food. (The hermit crab knows that the anemones protect it. When the hermit crab changes its shell, it will stroke the anemones on its old shell to get them to move to the new shell.) (3) Several types of fish clean the bodies of other fish, eating parasites and dead scales. One partner gets a meal and the other stays clean and healthy. Fish called the cleaning wrasses are visited by other fish who allow them to go over their bodies, into their mouths and out their gills to clean them. Fish line up at “cleaning stations” waiting to be cleaned by other fish. (4) Algae and coral polyps also serve one another. The zooxanthellae, a type of algae, live within coral polyps. The zooxanthellae are nourished by gasses (carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and phosphorus) produced as waste products by the coral. The presence of the algae increases the speed with which these waste products are removed from the polyp as well as the rate at which the hard outer skeleton of the polyp is created. Corals also gain advantage from the oxygen and nutrients produced by their zooxanthellae through photosynthesis. In fact, reefs are built only where there are plentiful zooxanthellae in the living tissues of stony corals.

A commensal relationship between two species occurs when one benefits but the other does not, although the latter is not harmed by the interaction. For a description of commensal feeding among birds, see Commensal Feeding.

A “parasite” attaches to a host and obtains nourishment but does not kill it. However, a parasitic relationship is not good for the host since the parasite takes nourishment from the host’s blood or in other ways. In addition, some parasites carry diseases that can harm or even kill the host.

Domestication occurs when one animal or plant is grown by another and harvested for food. Domestication is a type of symbiosis in which the farmer cultivates and tends to the domesticated plant or animal and either eats it or uses something produced by the plant or animal. Even when domesticated plants or animals are eaten, enough seeds or breeding animals are retained for the survival of the herd or flock.

An important feature of the relationships between individuals of different species is that often, relationships which are predatory on the individual level may be symbiotic on the species level. In this way lions unwittingly aid the preservation of the species that they hunt by killing off the ill, the weak, and the genetically defective, thus maintaining the health and vitality of the herd.

Corals and Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are the largest animal-made structures in nature rivaled only by the megalopolises created by man. The most extensive coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, is more than 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) long.

Coral reefs grow in clean, salty, shallow water (less than 150 feet deep) where there is a lot of sunlight and warm weather. Almost all coral reefs are found near the equator. (An imaginary line drawn around the earth equidistant from the north and south poles.) There are three different types of reefs. Fringing reefs extend from the shore to the sea. At times they have a narrow stretch of water between the land and the reef. A barrier reef forms several miles out to sea and creates a barrier between land and sea. The calm water between the barrier reef and the land is called a lagoon. The third kind of reef is an atoll. These are shaped like a ring and lie in the open sea. Some are even large enough for people to live on.

The exterior skeletons of stony coral polyps are the building blocks of coral reefs. The interstices are filled in by vast quantities of skeletal waste produced by the pounding of waves and organisms that eat coral. About 231,600 square miles (600,000 square kilometers) of coral reefs are known to exist. They comprise 0.17% of the ocean’s surface.

Coral reefs support thousands of different species of animals and plants. It is estimated that 5,000 to 6,000 different species of fish live on the Great Barrier Reef. But there are more than just fish. Many varieties of crab, shrimp, clam, oyster, starfish, sponge, sea anemone, octopus, eel, worm, and snail also make the reef their home. Coral reefs can be found off the coasts of only two states in the U.S., Hawaii, and Florida.

The animals which populate a reef operate in shifts. Diurnal animals come out during the day. Nocturnal animals are active at night. An animal is said to be crepuscular if it is most active at dawn or at dusk. These are good times for predators to hunt because the prey having been active all day or all night are tired, and also, in the dim light they may not see the predator. Or, they could be slow from having just awakened.

Corals are simple animals whose body, called a polyp, is a soft fleshy bag with finger-like tentacles ringing a mouth. At the other end the polyp attaches to a hard surface such as a rock or the hard exterior of another coral polyp. Polyps are thumb-sized or smaller. Corals are open only at one end. They do not have hands, eyes, ears, brains, or bones but their tentacles are loaded with tiny stingers. Corals are carnivorous and eat zooplankton.

There are two types of corals: soft and stony. Only the stony corals make reefs. Stony coral polyps take calcium from sea water, convert it into calcium carbonate (limestone), which forms a hard outer skeleton, called a “cup.” When the coral polyp dies, the skeleton remains. A new coral polyp will attach itself to the limestone and create its own limestone cup. Over thousands of years, the colonies can grow into a coral reef. Stony corals grow in all oceans to depths of nearly 20,000 feet deep (6,000 meters). The size of the polyps of colonial forms of stony coral are 0.04 to 1.2 inches (1 to 30 mm) in diameter. The color of Living stony corals depends upon the color of the algae within the coral ranging from yellow, to olive, to brown. The skeletons are always white.

The structures built by different stony corals are called colonies and are given names based on objects that they resemble. A colony of brain coral looks like a human brain. A colony of star coral displays a star shape. Staghorn coral looks like the antlers of a stag, and so on.

Colonies of soft corals can form beautiful shapes as well. Their skeletons are made up largely of protein and can look like fans, whips or feather plumes. They are flexible and wave in the sea currents just like branches of a tree waive in the wind. As sea water passes by, the corals filter it and extract the plankton on which they feed. Soft corals don’t build reefs but they can be found on or near reefs and add beauty to the reef.

Corals reproduce in two ways. Some corals produce eggs and other corals produce sperm. These develop as outgrowths on the inside bag of the polyp and are pushed out through the mouth into open water. The eggs are usually fertilized by the sperm in the open sea, but this can also occur inside the polyp as sea water carrying sperm enters its mouth. The fertilized egg develops into a larvae which swims around for several days or even as long as several weeks. When it attaches to a solid surface, it will develop into a polyp. A second method of reproduction is called budding in which a bump forms on a polyp. A new coral polyp will grow and form a new limestone cup attached to the cup of the old polyp. When the old polyp dies, the new polyp continues to grow.

The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland in Australia is actually about 2,100 individual reefs and another 800 fringing reefs which are formed around islands or bordering the coast.

Coral polyps die if the sea water becomes too salty or too warm or if there is pollution in the water. When a coral polyps dies, the zooxanthellae algae in the coral polyp also die. The coral then becomes white because its color is derived from the algae it hosts. This is called coral bleaching. Bleached reefs can recover, but it takes a long time.

Sponges are animals, although they may look like plants. They feed on bacteria, other organisms, and inorganic matter in the water as it passes through the sponge. The sponge acts as a filter, cleaning the water around coral reefs. Anemones are animals that attach to coral, to rocks or sometimes to the shells of crabs. They have poisonous tentacles which sting their pray and draw them into the anemone’s mouth. A starfish eats by shoving its stomach out through its mouth. The stomach covers the food and softens it with its digestive juices. When the food is soft enough the starfish takes the food into its stomach which it pulls back into its body. When a starfish loses an arm it simply grows another one.

Functional Similarities Between Coral Reefs and Cities

Many people talk about coral reefs as cities under the sea. But the analogy is usually not seriously pursued. One author, Richard C. Murphy, in Coral Reefs: Cities Under the Sea analyzed the processes by which coral reefs grow and survive according to the categories that we usually use to analyze human activities. The following section is a brief summary of a few of the concepts in his book. The book has much more detail.

Power Plants and Farms — The algae, using photosynthesis, serve as solar collectors to capture the energy of the sun and store it as chemical energy. Various animals farm algae in different ways. Some jellyfish have zooxanthellae in their tentacles. They turn themselves upside down to allow the zooxanthellae exposure to the sunlight. Damselfish maintain algae gardens, weed them to keep out undesirable species of algae, and fiercely protect them from other fish who also eat algae.

Waste Management and Recycling — The byproduct of each organism in a coral reef is a resource for another. Many, like coral polyps and zooxanthellae, cleaning station fish and their customers, and clownfish and anemones, have symbiotic relationships in which the waste and byproducts of one are used by the others. Parrotfish keep the algae population from dominating the reef. However, they also grind up the coral they bite off while eating the algae and make it into the sand. One parrotfish two feet in length can produce a few hundred pounds of sand in a year. When a storm batters the reef, the broken pieces of coral are used as building blocks for the next reef, just as the ruins of one city are the foundation of its successor.

Sea cucumbers, worms, shrimp, clams and others eat debris on the reef while sponges, clams and sea squirts clean the water around the reef by filtering out plankton and organic matter. If they didn’t perform this function, the organic matter with all its nutrients would wash out into the sea and would be lost to the reef.

Construction and Public Housing — Coral reefs provide housing for many species of animals. They are constantly being rebuilt and improved through a variety of natural processes, including wave action and animals grazing the coral, burrowing into it, tunneling through it, etc.

Public Health — Parasites are removed from the fish who go to cleaning stations and their health is improved as a result. Fish lineup to be treated at these cleaning stations, just like at clinics in human communities. Sponges and clams clean the water, like cleaning the air in a human city. Coral communities have plagues and epidemics. (The 1983 die-off of Diadema antillarum sea urchins in the Caribbean, denuded many reefs of all sea urchins. Since the urchins had kept the algae under control, algae increased by more than 400%, smothering corals and covering nearby exposed areas of the ocean floor used by coral larvae to build new colonies. In addition, like human communities, reefs also suffer from pollution.

Conflict and Cooperation — Like people, fish are territorial. There is tremendous cooperation as discussed in the section on symbiosis. The conflict among fish is much more fatal than the daily conflict among people in a city; fish are eaten by others on a reef thousands of times each day.

Advertising — Fish have distinctive markings that advertise services that they can perform for other fish (the cleaners), their poisonous nature (protects them from attack and predators from being injured if they attack), and show their presence when possession of turf is important. Fish of the reef engage in deceptive advertising as well. Some fish that are not cleaners have adopted the colors of cleaners. Other fish use eye-spots, disruptive coloration, or camouflage.


1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.


2. The tentacles of anemones are poisonous for any fish. How can the clownfish live among them?

Suggested Response:

Clownfish are not immune to the poison in the anemone’s tentacles and at first appear to be stung by them. Scientists believe that by dancing up against the tentacles for a time clownfish develop a protective mucous covering.


3. Anemones and clownfish have what is called a “symbiotic relationship.” Tell us what it means using anemones and clownfish as an example.

Suggested Response:

The anemone protects the clownfish from predators. The clownfish helps the anemone by eating leftovers from fish consumed by anemone, planktonic crustaceans, and algae. Clownfish also eat the dead tentacles of their host anemone. Eggs are laid in large batches, usually near and sometimes within the host anemone.


4. Some people call clownfish by another name. What is the name and why is it applied to clownfish?

Suggested Response:

See the Helpful Background section on clownfish.


5. The blue tang is part of the surgeonfish family of fish. Why are they called surgeonfish?

Suggested Response:

See Helpful Background section on blue tangs.


6. How big do loggerhead turtles usually grow and how much do they usually weigh?

Suggested Response:

See Helpful Background section on loggerhead turtles.


7. What is the usual life span of a loggerhead turtle?

Suggested Response:

See Helpful Background section on loggerhead turtles.


8. How far can loggerhead turtles travel in their migrations?

Suggested Response:

See Helpful Background section on loggerhead turtles.


9. How long can loggerhead turtles stay underwater while resting and while swimming?

Suggested Response:

See Helpful Background section on loggerhead turtles.


10. Why were loggerhead turtles given that name?

Suggested Response:

See Helpful Background section on loggerhead turtles.


11. What is the East Australia Current?

Suggested Response:

See the Helpful Background section on the East Australia Current.



Concepts from Biology

12. What is the food chain?

Suggested Response:

See the discussion of the food chain in the Helpful Background section.


13. What is the base of the food chain in the ocean?

Suggested Response:

Phytoplankton, also called algae. See the discussion of the food chain in the Helpful Background section.


14. When is it said that an animal is at the top of its food chain?

Suggested Response:

When it has no natural predators. See discussion of the food chain in the Helpful Background section.


15. What does “crepuscular” mean?

Suggested Response:

It describes animals that are active at dawn or at dusk.


16. Why are predators often particularly active at dusk?

Suggested Response:

See discussion in Helpful Background section under Concepts from Biology.


17. When is a “diurnal” animal awake?

Suggested Response:

During the day. Diurnal animals sleep at night.


18. What is the difference between a diurnal animal and a nocturnal animal?

Suggested Response:

Diurnal animals are awake during the day and nocturnal animals are active at night.


19. What must a predator have in order to be successful?

Suggested Response:

Some advantage over its prey.


20. What is the difference between phytoplankton and zooplankton? Why are they both called “plankton”?

Suggested Response:

Phytoplankton get energy through photosynthesis. Zooplankton eat phytoplankton. They are both microscopic. Zooplankton includes single celled animals, larvae of larger animals, and tiny crustaceans. The term “plankton” comes from the Greek word “planktos” which means “drifting.”


21. Why do phytoplankton stay near the surface of the ocean?

Suggested Response:

They need sunlight to make energy through photosynthesis.


22. Define the words “predator” and “prey” and apply these terms to phytoplankton and zooplankton.

Suggested Response:

Phytoplankton are the prey and zooplankton are the predator, i.e., phytoplankton are eaten by zooplankton.


23. Which species is higher on the food chain, phytoplankton or zooplankton?

Suggested Response:

Zooplankton, because they eat phytoplankton.


24. Describe three symbiotic relationships between animals on a coral reef.

Suggested Response:

See discussion of symbiosis in Helpful Background section.


25. How does a predator actually help the species of its prey?

Suggested Response:

By killing off weaker animals, it helps keep the species of the prey strong. Weaker animals cannot survive and bear young and so the gene pool of the prey will self-select for stronger individuals.


26. In the struggle between predator and prey is it always important for the individual prey to survive?

Suggested Response:

No. The key point is for the species to survive. Thus, it is better for the species of the prey if weak individuals are killed off by the predators before they can have young. Some prey use a strategy of survival in which they have many young who quickly disperse. Most will not survive but a few will.


27. Do sharks and the fish they eat have a symbiotic relationship?

Suggested Response:

No. The fish gets eaten and the individual fish gets nothing from the exchange. A symbiotic relationship is when individuals in each species benefit from the interaction.


28. Describe how several types of coloration used by prey animals help them survive. Name at least two.

Suggested Response:

The possibilities are camouflage, eyespots, disruptive coloration, colors that warn of poison, etc. See discussion of coloration in Helpful Background section.


29. What are the differences between a “commensal” relationship, a “symbiotic” relationship, and a “parasitic” relationship?

Suggested Response:

In a symbiotic relationship, both animals benefit. In a commensal relationship, one animal benefits while the other is not benefitted from the relationship but is not harmed. In a parasitic relationship, one party benefits and the other is harmed.



Corals and Coral Reefs

30. What is the relationship between zooxanthellae and coral polyps?

Suggested Response:

See definition of “symbiosis” in the Helpful Background section.


31. What are the different parts of a coral’s body and what are their uses?

Suggested Response:

See discussion of corals and coral reefs in the Helpful Background section.


32. How is a coral reef built?

Suggested Response:

When a coral polyp dies, other coral animals begin to live on top of its body. The skeletons of dead coral plants, one on top of another, build up the reef. Reefs grow slowly. It can take 50 years for a coral colony to grow three feet (about 90 centimeters). See discussion of corals and coral reefs in the Helpful Background section.


33. Describe the water in which coral reefs are found?

Suggested Response:

In clean, salty, shallow water (less than 250 feet deep) where there is a lot of sunlight and warm weather. Almost all coral reefs are found near the equator (A good follow-up question is to ask why the earth is warmer at the equator than at other regions. The answer is that at the equator the sun is directly overhead while in other parts of the world the rays of the sun hit the earth at an angle and must pass through more of the atmosphere to reach the earth than at the equator. Dust and atmospheric chemicals such as ozone, water vapor and carbon dioxide absorb sunlight and weaken the rays of the sun.)


34. In which oceans are coral reefs found?

Suggested Response:

The Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans.


35. What are the three kinds of reefs and how are they different?

Suggested Response:

Fringing reefs extend from the shore to the sea. At times they have a narrow stretch of water between the land and the reef. A barrier reef forms several miles out to sea and creates a barrier between land and sea. The third kind of reef is an atoll. These are shaped like a ring and lie in the open sea. Some are even large enough for people to live on.


36. What is the largest barrier reef in the world? How big is it?

Suggested Response:

The Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It is more than 1,250 miles long (2,012 kilometers) and is made up of about 2,500 small reefs and coral islands.


37. Name two enemies of coral reefs.

Suggested Response:

One is a starfish called the crown of thorns. In one day, it can eat the coral polyps in an area the size of a dollar bill. Storms that can break up a coral reef with the force of wave action are another enemy of the reefs. Mankind, through overfishing and pollution, is a third enemy.


38. Is coral an animal or a plant?

Suggested Response:

It’s an animal.


39. What are baby coral called and how do they grow?

Suggested Response:

They are called larvae. They spread out along the ocean floor and attach to something, such as the skeleton of a dead coral or a rock.


40. What do corals eat?

Suggested Response:

Some coral eat zooplankton, tiny, microscopic animals that float in the ocean water around the reefs.


41. Do corals have a backbone?

Suggested Response:



42. Do corals have a brain?

Suggested Response:



43. Do all corals build reefs?

Suggested Response:

No. In fact, most corals don’t. There are 2,500 different kinds of corals and only 650 of them are the stony corals that build reefs.


44. What is the process by which corals are said to “bud?”

Suggested Response:

A bump will form on a polyp and a new polyp will grow on it. Each new polyp will form a limestone cup around itself attached to the cup of the old polyp. As the old polyp dies, the new polyp continues to grow until it grows a new bud which becomes a new polyp, and so on. In this way new polyps grow on top of the old ones and the reef increases is size.


45. What makes coral hard and where do corals get this substance?

Suggested Response:

Calcium, just like the calcium in our bones, makes corals hard. The corals get the calcium from seawater and make calcium carbonate, also called limestone.


46. What happens to a coral reef at night?

Suggested Response:

A different set of animals come out, animals that do not depend upon sight. The coral are nocturnal animals, keeping their mouths and tentacles withdrawn during the day. Other nocturnal feeders are tube worms, featherdusters, crabs, spiny lobsters, squirrelfish, grunts, eels, and octopuses.


47. How long does it take a coral plant to grow into a reef?

Suggested Response:

Thousands and thousands of years.


48. What is coral bleaching and what does it mean?

Suggested Response:

See the Helpful Background section.


49. Will it hurt a coral reef for you to walk on it?

Suggested Response:

Yes. You will be crushing the coral and killing the animals.


50. If you buy a coral reef animal, a fish or a crab, in a pet store, are you hurting the reef?

Suggested Response:

Yes. The demand for coral reef fish, causes fishermen to go out to the reefs to capture the reef animals. They deplete the fish population and often injure the reef. The only way to stop this is for people to stop buying reef animals. There will then be no reason for the fishermen to go out the reefs.


51. Give three examples of reef fish who use camouflage as a survival technique.

Suggested Response:

The flat bodied flounder blends into the sandy bottom of the sea. The scorpion fish looks like a part of the coral reef. The trumpet fish will appear to be a frond of a trumpet coral and wave in ocean currents just like a trumpet coral.



Other Animals that Live on the Reef

52. Is a sponge a plant or an animal?

Suggested Response:

Although it looks like a plant, a sponge is an animal.


53. How do sponges eat?

Suggested Response:

As the water flows through the sponge, it filters the water and collects its food.


54. What are anemones?

Suggested Response:

Animals that attach to corals and sometimes to crabs. They have poisonous tentacles which sting their prey and draw them into the anemone’s mouth.


55. How does a starfish eat?

Suggested Response:

It shoves its stomach out through its mouth. The stomach covers the food and softens it with its digestive juices. When the food is soft enough the starfish takes the food into its stomach which it then pulls back into its body.


56. What will happen if another fish eats one of the arms of a starfish?

Suggested Response:

It will grow a new one. Some starfish can regenerate their entire bodies from one little fragment.

Discussion Questions Here.



1. Were the fish in the aquarium friends of Nemo?

Suggested Response:

Yes, they helped him escape.


2. What is the role of trust in friendship?

Suggested Response:

It is essential. Friends cannot be friends if they don’t trust each other.


3. What is the role of caring in friendship?

Suggested Response:

The basis of friendship is caring.



4. What were the problems in the relationship between Marlin and Nemo?

Suggested Response:

Marlin was a bit overprotective and Nemo was too adventurous. Otherwise, they had a great relationship.


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.



(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)


1. What would have happened in this story if Marlin had not accepted the help of other animals and had tried to rescue Nemo on his own? What does this say to you about people?

Suggested Response:

That it is good to have respect for all people.



(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)


2. What did Nemo do wrong that allowed the diver to catch him?

Suggested Response:

He was both disobeying his father and taking risky action. Nemo didn’t think it was a risk at the time but often children don’t know the risks when they disobey their parents. Parents have more experience and knowledge about the world than their children. They know much more about the risks involved in life than children.


3. A series of three questions getting at the same issues as the question above: Question: Do you think that Marlin, at the beginning of the movie, was being overprotective?

Suggested Answer:

Yes. Question: How should a child respond to what he or she considers to be an overprotective parent?

Suggested Answer:

Protest but obey. Question: Why?

Suggested Answer:

Often children don’t know what risks they are undergoing when they disobey their parents. Parents have more experience and knowledge about the world than their children. They know much more about the risks involved in life than children.


  • Write a paper answering any one or a group of the Discussion Question set out above.
  • Give a class presentation, singly or in groups, responding to any of the Discussion Question set out above


There are a plethora of well-illustrated and well-written children’s books about coral reefs. Books can be read aloud to children, or advanced readers can read the books themselves. We suggest the following: Coral Reef Animals by Francine Galko, 2003, part of the Animals in their Habitats series; It Could Still Be Coral by Allan Fowler, 1996, part of the Rookie Read About Science series; Fish Wish by Bob Barner, 2000; Coral Reef Hunters by Erica Ethan and Marie Bearanger, 1997, part of the Colors of the Sea series; Old Shell, New Shell by Helen Ward, 2002; Corals by Lynn M. Stone, 2003, part of the Science Under the Sea Series (this book contains an excellent description of coral as a species); and Coral Reefs by Sylvia Earle, published by National Geographic and illustrated by Bonnie Matthews (this book is an excellent introduction to life on a coral reef).

For grades 3 – 6, see Coral Reefs by Susan H. Gray, 2001, part of the First Reports series; Coral Reefs by Gary W. Davis, 1997, A City Under the Sea, Life in a Coral Reef by Norbert Wu, 1996,(entertaining, innovative, and informative); Life in the Coral Reef by Bobbie Kalman and Nikki Walker, 1997 (especially well organized and informative); The Sea by Robin Kerrod, part of the Young Scientist Concepts and Projects series (can be used to extend learning to the seas in general); Coral Reefs by Anita Ganeri, 2001, part of the Animal Homes series, illustrated by Antonella Pastorelli; Lizard Island, Science and Scientists on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef by Sneed B. Collard, III, 2000; Coral Reef, A City That Never Sleeps by Mary M. Cerullo, 1996; Coral Reef by April Pulley Sayre, 1996.



In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

  • “Coral.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2003. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 05 Nov, 2003 .
  • “Ocean” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2003. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 05 Nov, 2003 .
  • “Great Barrier Reef.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2003. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 05 Nov, 2003 .
  • “Wrasse.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2003. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 05 Nov, 2003 .
  • Coral Reefs: Cities Under the Sea by Richard C. Murphy, 2002.

This Learning Guide was last updated on July 21, 2011.

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