Sardines are common names that refer to various small, oily fish in the herring family Clupeidae.
The term “sardine” was first used in English during the early 15th century and may come from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, around which sardines were once abundant.
There are 21 species that may be classed as sardines.
They are a pelagic schooling fish with a lifespan of up to 13 years, but the majority of sardines are less than 6 years old.
Sardines can grow up to 40 centimeters (1.3 feet) long, but typical sizes are less than 23 centimeters (9 inches).
They live in the water column in nearshore and offshore areas along the coast. They grow rapidly and are important food for many fish, seabirds and marine mammals.
Sardines feed almost exclusively on zooplankton, “animal plankton”, and congregate wherever this is abundant.
Sardines are widely consumed by humans and as forage fish by larger fish species, seabirds and marine mammals.
Typically, sardines are caught with encircling nets, particularly purse seines. Many modifications of encircling nets are used, including traps or fishing weirs. The latter are stationary enclosures composed of stakes into which schools of sardines are diverted as they swim along the coast. The fish are caught mainly at night, when they approach the surface to feed on plankton. After harvesting, the fish are submerged in brine while they are transported to shore.
Sardines are commercially fished for a variety of uses: for bait – for immediate consumption – for drying, salting, or smoking – and for reduction into fish meal or oil. The chief use of sardines is for human consumption, but fish meal is used as animal feed, while sardine oil has many uses, including the manufacture of paint, varnish, and linoleum.
Sardines are often served in cans, but can also be eaten grilled, pickled, or smoked when fresh.
Sardines have a strong flavour and are oily and soft in texture. They are a popular seafood choice around the world.
Sardines are rich in vitamins and minerals. They are an excellent source of vitamin B-12. This vitamin helps your cardiovascular system and gives you energy. In addition, these fish contain a healthy amount of vitamin D. Along with B-12, D is necessary for good bone health throughout your life.
They are an excellent source of calcium. That makes them a good choice for those who are lactose intolerant, allergic to dairy, or need more calcium in their diet.
Sardines are also a natural source of marine omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce the occurrence of cardiovascular disease. Regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. These fatty acids can also lower blood sugar levels.
Because they are low in the food chain, sardines are very low in contaminants, such as mercury, relative to other fish commonly eaten by humans.
The sardine run of southern Africa occurs from May through July when billions of sardines spawn in the cool waters of the Agulhas Bank and move northward along the east coast of South Africa. Their sheer numbers create a feeding frenzy along the coastline. The run, containing millions of individual sardines, occurs when a current of cold water heads north from the Agulhas Bank up to Mozambique where it then leaves the coastline and goes further east into the Indian Ocean. In terms of biomass, researchers estimate the sardine run could rival East Africa’s great wildebeest migration. However, little is known of the phenomenon. It is believed that the water temperature has to drop below 21 °C in order for the migration to take place.
Sardines are related to herrings, both in the family Clupeidae.
Sardines date back to time immemorial, but it was the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte who helped to popularize these little fish by initiating the canning of sardines, the first fish ever to be canned, in order to feed the citizens of the land over which he presided.
Extremely popular in the United States in the 20th century, sardines are now making a comeback.
The manner in which sardines can be packed in a can has led to the popular English language saying “packed like sardines”, which is used metaphorically to describe situations where people or objects are crowded closely together. The phrase is recorded from 1911.
Sardines is also the name of a children’s game, where one person hides and each successive person who finds the hidden one packs into the same space until only one is left out, who becomes the next one to hide.
Among the residents of the Mediterranean city of Marseille, the local tendency to exaggerate is linked to a folk tale about a sardine that supposedly blocked the city’s port in the 18th century. It was actually
blocked by a ship called the “Sartine.”