The oceans face a biodiversity crisis, but the degree and scale of extinction risk remains poorly characterized. Charismatic species are most likely to garner greatest support for conservation and thus provide a best-case scenario of the status of marine biodiversity. We summarize extinction risk and diagnose impediments to successful conservation for 1,568 species in 16 families of marine animals in the movie Finding Nemo. Sixteen percent (12–34%) of those that have been evaluated are threatened, ranging from 9% (7–28%) of bony fishes to 100% (83–100%) of marine turtles. A lack of scientific knowledge impedes analysis of threat status for invertebrates, which have 1,000 times fewer conservation papers than do turtles. Legal protection is severely deficient for sharks and rays; only 8% of threatened species in our analysis are protected. Extinction risk among wide-ranging taxa is higher than most terrestrial groups, suggesting a different conservation focus is required in the sea.