The waterway is part of the important Suez Canal shipping route between the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Sea in the Indian Ocean with 21,000 ships crossing the gulf annually.
The name of the Gulf was inspired by the former British Crown Colony city of Aden, now part of Yemen. The Somali names are Gacanka Cadmeed or Gacanka Saylac.
The International Hydrographic Organization defines the limits of the Gulf of Aden as follows:On the Northwest – The southern limit of the Red Sea [A line joining Husn Murad (12°40′N 43°30′E / 12.667°N 43.500°E / 12.667; 43.500) and Ras Siyyan (12°29′N 43°20′E / 12.483°N 43.333°E / 12.483; 43.333)]. On the Northwest – The eastern limit of the Gulf of Tadjoura (A line joining Obock and Lawyacado). On the East – The meridian of Cape Guardafui (Ras Asir, 51°16'E).
The temperature of the Gulf of Aden varies between 15 °C (59 °F) and 28 °C (82 °F), depending on the season and the appearance of monsoons. The salinity of the gulf at 10 metres (33 ft) depth varies from 35.3 ‰ along the eastern Somali coast to as high as 37.3 ‰ in the gulf's center, while the oxygen content in the Gulf of Aden at the same depth is typically between 4.0 and 5.0 mg/L.
The Gulf of Aden is a vital waterway for shipping, especially for Persian Gulf oil, making it an integral waterway in the world economy. Approximately 11 percent of the world's seaborne petroleum passes through the Gulf of Aden on its way to the Suez Canal or to regional refineries. The main ports along the gulf are Aden in Yemen, Djibouti City in Djibouti, and Zeila and Berbera in Somaliland and Bosaso in Somalia.
In earlier history, the city of Crater, located just south of the modern city of Aden, was an important port in regional trade. Crater was the principal harbor of the pre-Islamic kingdom of Awsan, and after its annexation by the kingdom of Saba at the end of the 5th century, played a significant role in connecting Africa with Arabia.
In the late 2000s, the gulf evolved into a hub of pirate activity. By 2013, attacks in the waters had steadily declined due to active private security and international navy patrols. India receives USD 50 billion in imports and sends USD 60 billion in exports through this area annually. Because of this and for the sake of protecting the trade of other countries, India keeps a warship escort in this area.
Also see Piracy in Gulf of Aden.
A geologically young body of water, the Gulf of Aden has a unique biodiversity that contains many varieties of fish, coral, seabirds and invertebrates. This rich ecological diversity has benefited from a relative lack of pollution during the history of human habitation around the gulf. However, environmental groups fear that the lack of a coordinated effort to control pollution may jeopardize the gulf's ecosphere. Whales, dolphins, and dugongs were once common before being severely reduced by commercial hunts, including by mass illegal hunts by Soviet Union and Japan in 1960s to 70s. Critically endangered Arabian humpback whales were used to be seen in large numbers, and only a few of large whales still occur in the gulf waters such as bryde's whales, blue whales, and toothed whales inhabiting deep-seas such as sperm whales and less known tropical bottlenose whales.