pe·​lag·​ic | \ pə-ˈla-jik How to pronounce pelagic (audio) \

Definition of pelagic

: of, relating to, or living or occurring in the open sea : oceanic pelagic sediment pelagic birds

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from pelagic

pelagic noun

Synonyms for pelagic


marine, maritime, oceanic

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Did You Know?

Pelagic comes to us from Greek, via Latin. The Greek word pelagikos became "pelagicus" in Latin and then "pelagic" in English. ("Pelagikos" is derived from "pelagos," the Greek word for "sea," plus the adjectival suffix -ikos.) "Pelagic" first showed up in dictionaries in 1656; a definition from that time says that Pelagick meant "of the Sea, or that liveth in the Sea." A full 350 years later, writers are still using "pelagic" with the same meaning, albeit less frequently than its more familiar synonym "oceanic."

Examples of pelagic in a Sentence

among pelagic animals the undisputed king is the blue whale, the largest creature currently roaming the face of the earth at one time pelagic whaling was the cornerstone of the island's economy

Recent Examples on the Web

Called pelagic red crabs, the animals look like small lobsters or crawfish and measure one to three inches long. Elaina Zachos, National Geographic, "Thousands of Tiny Red Crustaceans Strand on California Beach," 12 June 2018 But by far the most climate-friendly seafood is small pelagic fish, such as sardines, herrings, and anchovies. Erik Stokstad, Science | AAAS, "Our growing taste for shrimp is bad news for climate change," 2 Apr. 2018 But when the eggs of pelagic-spawning fish hatch, the babies are helpless—no mouth, eyes, gastrointestinal tract, or nervous system. National Geographic, "Breeding Aquarium Fish Can Help Save Reefs," 3 May 2016 Recently, the bright red tuna crabs — known as pelagic red crab or pleuroncodes planipes — were spotted on the beach at Lovers Point in Pacific Grove and further out in the bay where gulls have been seen feeding off them. Carly Mayberry, The Mercury News, "Mystery surrounds frequent return of the red crabs to Monterey Bay," 12 Mar. 2017 UC Davis professor of evolution and ecology Eric Sanford says the 18 pelagic red crabs are the first ones reported this far north since 1985, when there was an isolated sighting recorded in Fort Bragg. Orange County Register, "Small red crabs invade beach in Northern California," 3 Feb. 2017 Most of the small pelagic fish that swim in Senegalese waters — and make up 85 percent of the nation’s protein consumption — migrate in enormous schools between Morocco and Sierra Leone. Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, "China’s Appetite Pushes Fisheries to the Brink," 30 Apr. 2017 Reef fish lose their habitat, and pelagic fish such as tuna lose an important source of food. National Geographic, "One of the World's Biggest Fisheries Is on the Verge of Collapse," 29 Aug. 2016 These learnings are now driving the development of new experiments for the next trip, such as trying to quantify the shockwaves close to the vent to understand the tolerance of the pelagic fish and sharks that are living around this volcano. Nora Rappaport, National Geographic, "These Sharks Thrive Inside an Underwater Volcano," 19 Apr. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'pelagic.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of pelagic

circa 1656, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for pelagic

Latin pelagicus, from Greek pelagikos, from pelagos sea — more at plagal

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about pelagic

Listen to Our Podcast about pelagic

Statistics for pelagic

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for pelagic

The first known use of pelagic was circa 1656

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for pelagic



English Language Learners Definition of pelagic

technical : relating to or living in the sea far from the shore

More from Merriam-Webster on pelagic

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with pelagic

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for pelagic

Comments on pelagic

What made you want to look up pelagic? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


showing great care, attention, and effort

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Finance Words Quiz

  • a-piggy-bank
  • The etymology of mortgage is related most closely to which two words?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!