The Ocean’s Unsung Heroes – Hooray for the Little Guys & Just Keep Swimming!

When most people think about ocean creatures, they picture large charismatic species like whales, penguins, polar bears, sharks and turtles. These magnificent animals are the “celebrities” of the oceans and tend to received significant public and scientific attention. In fact, they are even play starring roles in Hollywood movies, such as Happy Feet, Dolphin Tale, Finding Nemo, and March of the Penguins.

Seaturtles - the Ocean's celebrity species. Meet Crush - the star of the Disney animated movie "Finding Nemo" (Image: Disney Wiki)
Meet Crush – the star of the Disney animated movie “Finding Nemo”.
Seaturtles are ocean celebrities. (Image: Disney Wiki)

However, there are many smaller marine animals that tend to be overshadowed and overlooked, like sardines and anchovies.

These small fishes (termed “forage fish”) are among the most important to the health of the oceans.  In particular, forage fish are important food for the species that we consume as seafood like tunas and swordfish and some of the charismatic animals we love, such as whales and turles.

Small fishes (known as "forage fish") like the sardines pictured above are the ocean's unsung heroes. They are important food for tunas, whales, turtles, and seabirds.  (Image:
Small fishes (known as “forage fish”) like the sardines pictured above are the ocean’s unsung heroes. They are important food for tunas, whales, turtles, and seabirds.

Of concern, is that forage fish are being heavily fished. Forage fish are mostly ground up and used for fertilizer, pet food or to feed live-stock. Overfishing of forage fish is a major concern since so many marine animals depend on forage fish for food!

A recent study (Pikitch et al. 2012) set out to evaluate the importance of forage fish as food for bigger fishes, such as tuans and billfish. They also wanted to investigate the importance of forage fish to the global economy.

What the study discovered was remarkable. They found that forage fish contribute $16.9 Billion USD to the global economy. Of that, forage fish are worth $5.6 Billion in of themselves when directly captured and used for fertilizer, pet food etc. However, when left in the water, they are worth $11.3 Billion indirectly as food for big fishes that are economically important, like tunas. The study suggests, therefore, that from a cost-benefit perspective, we should not over-exploit forage fish and leave their populations healthy and robust to serve as food for the big fishes, whales and turtles.

Watch these great video summaries HERE:

To sign a petition to help protect pacific Forage Fish – go HERE:



Information source from Pikitch et al. (2012) and PEW Environmental Initiatives


Pikitch E.K., Rountos, K.J., Essington, T.E., Santora, C., Pauly, D., Watson, R., Sumaila, U.R., Boersma, P.D., Boyd, I.L., Conover, D.O., Cury, P., Heppell, S.S., Houde, E.D., Mangel, M., Plagány, É., Sainsbury, K., Steneck, R.S., Geers, T.M., Gownaris, N., Munch, S.B. 2012. The global contribution of forage fish to marine fisheries and ecosystems. FISH and FISHERIES.


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Research Associate Professor at the University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science Dedicated to advancing marine conservation through research, education and outreach Views my Own