pe·​lag·​ic pə-ˈla-jik How to pronounce pelagic (audio)
: of, relating to, or living or occurring in the open sea : oceanic
pelagic sediment
pelagic birds
pelagic noun

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 the sea—it is also a source of archipelago—plus the adjectival suffix -ikos.) Pelagic first showed up in dictionaries in 1656; a definition from that time says that Pelagick (as it was then spelled) meant "of the Sea, or that liveth in the Sea." Centuries 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 To illustrate, the researchers found large amounts of microplastics in pelagic red crabs and giant larvaceans, two filter-feeding species that reside in the midwater and are fundamental to food webs at both the ocean’s surface and floor. Lydia Rivers, Discover Magazine, 15 June 2021 In tracking the biomass of pelagic fish on the West Coast from British Columbia to Baja California, Demer of NOAA has observed some behavior that explains why populations in decline often stay in decline. Layla Schlack, San Francisco Chronicle, 21 Mar. 2021 The free-floating creatures eat pelagic gastropods, notably snails. Gary Robbins, San Diego Union-Tribune, 19 Apr. 2023 His collection includes chocolate porcelain crabs, pelagic red crabs, scarlet sea cucumbers and sea butterflies — all species once rare but now common to the Sonoma coast. Nick Rahaim,, 16 Oct. 2020 Larger fish like bluegill, panfish, and crappie hide from predators in the sunken branches, allowing pelagic populations to soar. Frederick Dreier, Outside Online, 5 Jan. 2023 The Glaucus is considered to be a type of pelagic nudibranch that devours bluebottles and stores their stinging agents as defense against predators. Alan Taylor, The Atlantic, 25 Jan. 2023 My research has focused on the migrations of animals that use the deep blue waters, away from the continental shelf (pelagic animals). Daniel Madigan, Discover Magazine, 30 July 2012 In fact, none of the species with the longest pelagic larval durations — the eels in the order Anguilliformes — are circumtropical. Christie Wilcox, Discover Magazine, 31 Dec. 2015 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'pelagic.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

circa 1656, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of pelagic was circa 1656


Dictionary Entries Near pelagic

Cite this Entry

“Pelagic.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


pe·​lag·​ic pə-ˈlaj-ik How to pronounce pelagic (audio)
: of, relating to, or living or occurring in the open sea : oceanic
pelagic fish
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