Fun Capelin Facts For Kids

Oluniyi Akande
May 16, 2023 By Oluniyi Akande
Originally Published on Aug 05, 2021
Edited by Monisha Kochhar
Fact-checked by Chandan Shukla
Capelin facts about a species of tiny smelt fish.

Every year in June and July, if you got to visit Newfoundland and Hudson Bay's beaches, the image of several hundreds of tiny silverfish just below the water's surface immediately captures your attention. When these fish begin to roll onto shores with the waves, people line the beaches to watch, catch, and scoop up these tiny fishes called Capelin.

This small, slender fish is far healthier and more delicious to eat. The flesh of this fish has a pleasant flavor similar to herring fish.

They also attract predator animals like Atlantic cod, harp seals, whales, seabirds, squid, and Atlantic mackerel, who feed heavily on spawning Capelin.

There are almost 21 species that consume Capelin. Despite these significant losses, Capelin remains one of the most essential foraging fish in the Arctic and Northwest Atlantic.

Capelin is also used commercially for fish meal and oil industry products. It is also used to make Masago, a Capelin roe which is a high-value product.

After learning about Capelin, check out our other articles on intriguing species found in the water, such as cownose ray and pinfish.

Capelin Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a capelin?

Capelin (Mallotus villosus), is a marine fish that belongs to the family of small fish species called Smelt.

What class of animal does a capelin belong to?

Capelin fish belong to the Actinopterygii class, also known as Ray-finned fish, which are traditionally a class or subclass of bony fishes.

How many capelins are there in the world?

Capelin are found to have a healthy population. According to a study, about 20,000 tons of Capelin were fished commercially every year.

Where does a capelin live?

Capelin can be found all over the world in the Arctic and Subarctic regions. They are most abundant around Newfoundland and range from western Greenland and Hudson Bay in the north to Maine in the south in the northwestern Atlantic.

They have been seen in greater numbers in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the Scotian Shelf since the early 1990s. In the eastern Atlantic, they are found from the Barents Sea to the Norwegian coast, as well as in Icelandic coastal waters.

In the Pacific, they extend from the Juan de Fuca Strait north through Alaska and across the Bering Sea to Siberia. Their range also extends south, around Japan, and toward Korea.

What is a capelin's habitat?

The Capelin lives in cold Arctic seas worldwide, but it also inhabits coastal waters in northern temperate zones.

Unlike many other smelt species, the Capelin does not spawn in freshwater but instead lays its eggs close to shore. Capelin are most visible during the spawning season when they gather in large numbers along sea coasts.

They spawn on gravel or pebbly bottoms, primarily near the water's surface, with many of them caught in the wash of the waves on the seaside; most would then be trapped on the beach between waves.

Who do Capelin live with?

Capelin lives in stocks, and they are one of the Pelagic species which move quickly, influenced by ocean temperatures and the availability of food. Some of the Capelin stocks spend the majority of their lives offshore, coming to inshore only to spawn on beaches, whereas others spend their entire lives offshore, spawning on the bottom in deep water.

Capelin populations migrate extensively during the Barents Sea season and around Iceland.

Capelin from the Barents Sea migrate to northern Norway's coast and Russia's Kola Peninsula to spawn during the winter and early spring. They migrate north and northeastward to feed during the summer and autumn.

How long does a capelin live?

The lifespan of Capelin is around five or six years.

How do they reproduce?

Capelin produce offspring by spawning. During spawning, a mature female releases eggs, and a mature male releases sperm into the water, which fertilizes these eggs.

Their spawning season occurs in the spring but can last into the summer. Capelin can spawn when they are three to four years old.

Males migrate directly to shallow water for spawning, while females remain in deeper water until fully mature. When the females reach sexual maturity, they migrate to the spawning grounds and mate. This procedure is usually carried out at night.

It is observed that spawning occurs over sand or gravel at depths of 7 –328 ft (2-100 m) in the North European Atlantic. In contrast, in the North Pacific and Newfoundland oceans, Capelin was found spawning on beaches.

What is their conservation status?

The conservation status of Capelin is Not Extinct. According to the researchers, in recent years, Capelin has been spawning later in the season, resulting in less survival and lower larval numbers.

Their population strongly influences the marine ecosystem, as they are a food source for many species. Capelin eggs are also an essential food for certain fish species like winter flounder. The impact of climate change on temperature, plankton, and nutrients will impact its number.

As stock may reach critical condition, it is time to pause fishing these small species until the stock recovers. Scientific efforts should also be made to increase the spawning stock to ensure their populations remain stable and healthy.

Capelin Fun Facts

What do capelin look like?

Capelin (Mallotus villosus) are small, slender fish with a pointed snout and a protruding bottom jaw. Their bodies are olive green on top, silvery on the sides, and silvery white on the belly. The shape of the adipose fin also distinguishes Capelin from other smelts.

Their pectoral is wider, usually with fifteen or greater rays. Males and females fish display different physical characteristics during the breeding season. Males are slightly larger and have overbuilt pectoral and anal fins, whereas females can be identified by their swollen abdomens with eggs.

ACapelin fish specimen.

How cute are they?

Despite their small size, they look cute. As these Capelin come ashore to breed in greater numbers at shores, they create a fantastic atmosphere. Many people visit Capelin hotspots to enjoy the sight as they can capture these species simply in their hands.

How do they communicate?

There is not much research done on how exactly Capelin communicate. However, similar to other fish species, Capelin might also communicate through sound, smell, color, bioluminescence, motion, and electrical impulses.

How big is a capelin?

A male Capelin is about 8 in (20 cm) in length, while female Capelin is 10 in (25.2 cm) long.

How fast can a capelin swim

It is unknown how fast a Capelin swims but research in the cold waters of the Barents Sea says that Capelin have a slower swimming speed than warm-blooded predators.

How much does a capelin weigh?

The average weight of the Capelin ranges from 1.4-1.7 oz (40-50 g)

What are the male and female names of the species?

This fish does not have a specific name to give gender differentiation; both male and female fish are referred to as fish in common. The male has overbuilt pectoral and anal fines to capture the female and grab a depression in the sea bottom where the eggs and milt are buried.

While female capelin can be recognized by swollen eggs in her abdomen.

What would you call a baby capelin?

Initially, they are called larvae developed from fertilized eggs. When young fish start eating on their own, they are referred to as fry. Juveniles are formed later in development after the fry has progressed through more developmental stages. Most of these juveniles do not survive to become adults due to various factors such as fishing, predators, and climatic changes.

What do they eat?

Capelin feeds on dense swarms of plankton. Larger Capelin also consume a lot of krill and other crustaceans.

Are they eaten by humans?

Capelin is one of the favorite forage fish; despite its tiny size, it is delicious. Capelin is rich in vitamins and protein. There are so many ways to get tasty Capelin on your plate by simply frying them, or you can also try smoked Capelin, salted Capelin, or dried Capelin.

Capelin should be regularly included in diets to prevent thyroid disease and reduce blood cholesterol. It is recommended for those people with high blood pressure and cardiovascular system problems.

Capelin is a good source of iodine and selenium needed to build your bones and hair well. Capelin is also suitable for diabetes since it helps to reduce glucose. It is also good for those who want to lose weight.

Roe made from these smelt fish eggs also makes incredible food, rich in micronutrients and Omega-3 fatty acids. The roe of Capelin, known as Masago, contains numerous healthful minerals and nutrients, such as magnesium, selenium, and vitamin B-12.

Masago is collected from female Capelin once it is full of eggs and harvested before they spawn. It is often used in sushi rolls and dried to look bright reddish-orange.

These small eggs release juice that fills a light sea flavor in your mouth. The natural color of this roe is orange, but it is usually colored in a wide range of colors like Red Capelin Caviar and Black Capelin.

Would they make a good pet?

Generally, people keep fish as pets because they are calming to those who watch them. These fish can also be part of your aquarium as they are less expensive and easier to care for. However, keep in mind that if you keep these smelt fish as pets alongside other pets such as dogs and cats, they may ingest them.

Did you know...

During the Capelin's spawning season, male Capelin have a line of hairy scales, displayed along the body side, while the anal fin grows. The potential of a hair or two in their diet does not seem too much concern for Capelin-eaters, however, and it is a favorite snack in Japan.

In Norwegian, the fish is also called ‘lodde’, which means hairy.

What is capelin fish used for?

Apart from being a forage fish, Capelin is used commercially for making fishmeal and petroleum products. Approximately 80% of harvested Capelin is used to make fishmeal and fish oil products, with the remaining 20% used to make Masago.

Masago is a high-quality product that is Capelin fish roe made from fully ripe Capelin eggs before female Capelin spawns. 'Wasabi Caviar' is another product made from Capelin roe mixed with wasabi. Often, Masago is marketed as ‘ebiko’ and used to substitute tobacco because of its appearance and taste.

What is a capelin's function in its ecosystem?

During the last few decades, the stock of Capelins in the Barents Sea has changed drastically. Since Capelin biomass has been reduced dramatically, its predators are also greatly affected.

The main predator of Capelin is the Atlantic cod, with the harp seal coming in second. Cod has been subject to increased cannibalism, decreased growth, and delayed maturation. Sea birds have experienced a higher mortality number, and for several years breeding colonies have been abandoned.

Harp seals also suffered food scarcity and increased mortality number. This can also go on to affect their predators further up the chain, such as orcas.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other fish including American shad or Pacific cod.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our Capelin coloring pages.

We Want Your Photos!
We Want Your Photos!

We Want Your Photos!

Do you have a photo you are happy to share that would improve this article?
Email your photos

More for You


See All

Written by Oluniyi Akande

Doctorate specializing in Veterinary Medicine

Oluniyi Akande picture

Oluniyi AkandeDoctorate specializing in Veterinary Medicine

With an accomplished background as a Veterinarian, SEO content writer, and public speaker, Oluniyi brings a wealth of skills and experience to his work. Holding a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Ibadan, he provides exceptional consulting services to pet owners, animal farms, and agricultural establishments. Oluniyi's impressive writing career spans over five years, during which he has produced over 5000 high-quality short- and long-form pieces of content. His versatility shines through as he tackles a diverse array of topics, including pets, real estate, sports, games, technology, landscaping, healthcare, cosmetics, personal loans, debt management, construction, and agriculture.

Read full bio >
Fact-checked by Chandan Shukla

Bachelor of Science specializing in Computer Science

Chandan Shukla picture

Chandan ShuklaBachelor of Science specializing in Computer Science

With a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science from Aryabhatta College, University of Delhi, Chandan is a skilled and passionate technophile. He has completed a machine learning training program and is adept in various programming languages. He has been working as a content writer for two years while also striving to become a proficient tech professional.

Read full bio >