The study of vertical migrations in aquatic organisms has a long and colourful history, much of it to do with the effects of changing sampling technology on our understanding of the phenomenon. However, the overwhelming majority of such studies carried out today still depend on detecting differences in vertical distribution profiles during some course of time, or acoustic echoes of migrating bands of organisms. These can not distinguish migratory activity of individual organisms, but can only assess net results of mass transfers of populations, which may integrate many individual migrations. This is an important distinction, for without knowing the actual movements of individuals it seems unlikely that we will be able to understand their causes, nor the effects of vertical migrations on the environment or on the migrators themselves. This review examines evidence for individual vertical movements gathered from 'tracers', mainly gut contents, and reviews the evidence for the hypothesis that such movements are in fact driven by hunger and satiation. The more recently appreciated vertical migrations of phytoplankters and their similarities in form and driving forces to those of zooplankton and nekton are also discussed. Finally, the role of vertical migrators in vertical fluxes of materials is discussed, along with the consequences of satiation-driven descent for such estimates.