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Details About The Three Genera

The genus of true sardines, Sardina, contains only one species, Sardina pilchardus. Also referred to as pilchards, these sardines live off of the European coast in the Atlantic Ocean and in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Their habitat is limited to areas where the temperature measures at or above 68°F (20°C). During the past 50 years, they have been found further and further northward, probably as a result of increases in global and seawater temperatures.

True sardines grow to about 10-12 in (25-30 cm) in body length. Their spawning period is rather long because of their wide distribution; in fact, depending on their location, fish of this species spawn almost continuously somewhere in their habitat. In the Atlantic Ocean, these sardines migrate northward in the summer and southward in the fall to take advantage of better feeding opportunities.

The largest of the sardine genera, Sardinella, contains about 16 species, and fish from this genus are known by a variety of common names. For example, in the eastern United States, people refer to them as anchovies and Spanish sardines. In the southern Pacific, they are called oil or Indian sardines. These sardines inhabit the tropical parts of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans as well as the western portion of the Pacific Ocean. Sardinella aurita, the largest of all sardine species, is found in the Mediterranean and Black Seas and along the African coast. The majority of fish in this genus grow no longer than 4-8 in (10-20 cm) long and have only limited commercial value as a food source.

The third genus, Sardinops, contains five species, all with fairly similar characteristics. These species are: the Pacific sardine, the South American sardine, the Japanese sardine, the South African sardine, and the Australian sardine. They can grow to about 12 in (30 cm) long and, with the exception of the Australian sardine, are very important commercially.

One well known species within the genus Sardinops is the Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax), which lives along the coasts of eastern Asia and western North America. In North America, they are found from Baja California to British Columbia. Although this species spawns from January until June, most spawning occurs in March and April; and spawning occurs as far as 300 nautical miles away from shore.

Three or four days after spawning, the larvae hatch and make their way toward the coast; they measure about 3-5 in (7-12 cm). At this point, they are caught in large quantities by humans and used for bait to catch tuna. When they grow to about 7 in (17 cm), they leave the coast and meet the adults in the open sea. At two or three years old, they measure between 7-10 in (17-25 cm) and attain sexual maturity. These fish can live as long as 13 years. The population of this species is declining, probably because of overfishing.

Sardines are a very important source of food for many human populations. In fact, their importance is equal to that of the herring. People consume sardines in a variety of ways: dried, salted, smoked, or canned. People also use sardines for their oil and for meal.

See also Anchovy.



Lythgoe, John, and Gillian Lythogoe. Fishes of the Sea. Cambridge, MA: Blandford Press, 1991.

Nelson, Joseph S. Fishes of the World. 3rd ed. New York: Wiley, 1994.

Whiteman, Kate. World Encyclopedia of Fish & Shellfish. New York: Lorenz Books, 2000.

Kathryn D. Snavely

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Revaluation of values: to Sarin Gas - History And Global Production Of SarinSardines - General Characteristics And Habits, Details About The Three Genera