Three strains of denitrifying estuarine bacteria, OS217(T), 05220 and OS226, were characterized for their physiological and biochemical features, fatty acid profiles and their phylogenetic position based on 16S rDNA sequences. The strains were isolated from the oxic-anoxic interface of an anoxic basin of the central Baltic Sea. Phylogenetic analyses of the 16S rDNA sequences revealed a clear affiliation with members of the genus Shewanella of the gamma-Proteobacteria. The closest sequence similarity was seen with Shewanella baltica, Shewanella putrefaciens and Shewanella frigidimarina (95-96%). The dominant fatty acids were 16:1omega7c, 15:0 iso, 16:0 and 13:0 iso. The G+C content of the DNA ranged from 46.8 to 48.1 mol%. The strains were unpigmented, polarly flagellated, mesophilic, facultatively anaerobic and able to use nitrate, nitrite and sulphite as electron acceptors. Growth was observed at salinities from 0 to 6%, with an optimum between 1 and 3%. According to their morphology, physiology, fatty acid composition and 16S rRNA sequences, the described bacteria fitted well into the genus Shewanella, but could be easily distinguished from the Shewanella species described to date. Because of their capacity for vigorous denitrification, the name Shewanella denitrificans sp. nov. is suggested for the Baltic isolates, for which the type strain is OS217(T) (= DSM 15013(T) = LMG 21692(T)).