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What is a Sardine?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The sardine, or pilchard, is an ocean going fish well known for traveling in large groups, or schools. The sardine is related to the herring, and sometimes canned fish labeled as sardine is actually herring. The sardine is widely fished in the Pacific and Atlantic, and popular both preserved and fresh in a wide variety of cuisines. While sardines are not considered to be a fish species at risk, careful monitoring of sardine fisheries has been recommended to prevent overfishing and potential collapse.

The sardine is a small, silvery fish with a protruding snout and large mouth. Sardine species can be found in northern and southern waters, and favor estuaries or inter-tidal zones. The sardine eats plankton and small fish larva, and forms an important part of the marine food chain because they are in turn eaten by larger species. In addition to being eaten by other fish, sardines form a substantial part of the diet of many aquatic birds such as pelicans.

The sardine has dark, oily flesh which is popular among some consumers and loathed by others. The fish is rich in omega-3 acids, and generally considered to be very healthy for those who favor the taste. Opinion on sardines tends to be polarized, with many southern Europeans being very fond of the fish, while others are vehemently opposed. In addition to supplementing human diets, sardines are a common bait fish for larger species which are commercially fished. As a result, collapse of sardine fisheries could be catastrophic.

When preserved, sardines are often split and canned with oil after being salted. Sardines are suspended in oil or brine to prevent their oils from going rancid, and therefore rarely found dried. Sardines can also be eaten fresh, and grilled sardine is a popular Mediterranean dish. Sardine often appears in dishes where fish flavor is used, such as Worcestershire sauce, Caesar salads, some Asian foods, and some other commercial sauces.

Like other schooling fish, sardines are migratory, and may be commonly found in an area in one year and yet disappear the next. Commercial fishing companies have adapted to this with the use of sonar and other location techniques, while smaller fishing communities resort to hunting for the food fish in the types of areas sardines tend to favor. Sardines are often found close to the ocean surface, and are sometimes visible as a silvery mass, or as a large disturbance in the water if predators are attacking.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon273559 — On Jun 07, 2012

Fish die offs and whale beachings are caused by ultra low frequency (ULF) sound waves emitted by the US navy and other navies. It is the new secure way they communicate with their submarines.

The sound waves never travel through the atmosphere, but do travel through water and rock; so the ships can communicate even if they are in different oceans, thousands of miles apart. It's as simple as that.

By anon178924 — On May 22, 2011

@anon146659: Sardines do have scales and fins. Anchovies and mackerel have them too

By anon146659 — On Jan 26, 2011

i wanted to know if this fish had fins and scales? this is only fish i eat. also do anchovies and mackerel have them?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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