Definition of pelagic in English:



  • 1Relating to the open sea.

    ‘the kittiwakes return from their pelagic winter wanderings’
    • ‘Mirrored and colored surfaces are common adaptations for crypsis in pelagic habitats.’
    • ‘Most deep-sea trenches in the Pacific are floored by normal basaltic oceanic crust overlain by pelagic sediments and ash.’
    • ‘Here we report the results of an unusually early springtime study of pelagic microbial activity in the coastal Alaskan Arctic.’
    • ‘Aquatic ecologists have many models for size distributions of pelagic communities.’
    • ‘The pelagic environment is further divided based on water depth.’
    1. 1.1 (chiefly of fish) inhabiting the upper layers of the open sea.
      ‘there are very few pelagic fish to be seen’
      Often contrasted with demersal
      • ‘The young pelagic fishes look different enough from their adult form that they were classified at one time as a separate subfamily.’
      • ‘And sharks that range across the open ocean, known as oceanic or pelagic sharks, have been an even bigger mystery.’
      • ‘Eleven companies each with a 15-year term will catch large pelagic fish.’
      • ‘Adult beluga sturgeon are mainly piscivores, swimming at middle depths and preying mostly on pelagic fish species.’
      • ‘These sites provide the most exciting diving, with shoaling barracuda and other pelagic fish, but sadly they tend to be few and far between.’
      • ‘He wanted to target lucrative species that lived near the surface, the pelagic fish, such as sardinella, mackerel and horse mackerel.’
      • ‘Each year, every migration of every pelagic fish depends on where the plankton is and this is purely down to drift and current.’
      • ‘On calm days, dive trips go to the windward side of the island to search for large schools of pelagic fish: bronze whaler sharks, hammerheads, mantas and sometimes oceanic white tips.’
      • ‘Farmed salmon eat two to five pounds of protein for every pound of weight gained - protein that comes from small pelagic fish like anchovies, mackerel, herring, and sardines.’
      • ‘Advances will soon lead to using these listening stations for fish as pelagic receivers where physiological data sets can be archived and downloaded as the fish swim by.’
      • ‘Their diet includes squid, skates, ratfish, rockfish, and octopus, as well as pelagic fishes such as mackerel and sardines.’
      • ‘However, aside from anecdotal reports of color changes in various pelagic fish, particularly billfish, little else is known.’
      • ‘Under such conditions, we predict that more social otters would have diets higher in better quality pelagic fishes, compared with otters that exhibit low levels of sociality.’
      • ‘They hunt small schooling fish, squid and octopus, and are an important predator of large pelagic fish including tuna and swordfish.’
      • ‘The hors d' oeuvres consist of the small pelagic fish that swim in the natural eddy created by the country's jutting landmass.’
      • ‘While blue whales may occasionally feed on pelagic crabs and small fishes, their diet is almost exclusively euphausiid shrimps commonly called krill.’
      • ‘The pelagic fish community is dominated by whitefish.’
      • ‘The silvery sheen displayed by many pelagic fishes is an example of structural color.’
      • ‘Among coastal river otters in this region, sociality could be explained by the benefits obtained from cooperative foraging on high-quality schooling pelagic fishes.’
      • ‘Of the fishes, several pelagic species were found in many of the habitats sampled.’
      marine, ocean, oceanic
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2 (of a bird) inhabiting the open sea and returning to the shore only to breed.
      • ‘The intermittent effects of strong El Niño events on pelagic and terrestrial bird populations have been extensively documented.’
      • ‘Hopefully, we'll see some of the pelagic birds that make this area the envy of birders everywhere.’
      • ‘A pelagic bird, usually seen only from boats, the Black-footed Albatross is solid, brownish-gray, with a pale face and a lighter patch at the base of its tail.’
      • ‘He even provides an introduction to pelagic birding, describes methods of calling in birds by audio aids, and then goes very appropriately into ethics for birder field behavior.’
      • ‘Whales have been scarce, and the pelagic birds are feeding close to shore.’
      • ‘The Northern Gannet is a large pelagic bird that only comes ashore to breed.’
      • ‘We also saw our first pelagic bird, the natty Northern Gannet.’
      • ‘Oh, and the wandering albatross, king penguins, hundreds of pelagic birds, sea lions, and icebergs will be there, too.’
      • ‘Usually you can expect to see great numbers of pelagic birds - gannets, shearwaters, jaegers, storm-petrels, alcids - that live mainly at sea.’
      • ‘The news today reports about a Manx Shearwater, a pelagic bird, that is believed to be the oldest wild bird in the United Kingdom.’


  • A pelagic fish or bird.

    • ‘The dive sites are pristine, with fewer divers and an increased chance of seeing large pelagics.’
    • ‘There is a channel through the reef, and when conditions are right this is the place to see pelagics cruising.’
    • ‘We do have a dive boat to ourselves, but most of the buoys are missing off the wreck sites and Dog Island, with its sharks and pelagics, is too far for the small boats operating at this time of year.’
    • ‘Horizon also takes divers to rarely visited islands off the Baja coastline, such as Guadalupe and San Benito, to see hordes of sea-lions, yellowfin tuna and other pelagics.’
    • ‘As there are large numbers of tuna and jack fish at this exposed location, big pelagics frequently hang around there.’
    • ‘Turtles, large shoals of fish and pelagics including hammerhead, sharks, manta rays and whale sharks are often encountered.’
    • ‘Year round, divers can swim with white tips, black tips, silvertips, grey reef sharks and other pelagics which dot the bright coral with their prominent dorsal fins.’
    • ‘I had hoped to see plenty of pelagics here and sure enough, below us and at the periphery of our vision, a small school of jacks was being circled menacingly by several grey reef sharks.’
    • ‘There are a number of excellent sites including plunging pinnacles and deep walls and reefs, and there are often currents that bring in pelagics including jack barracuda and sharks.’
    • ‘This suggests that many were fishing directly from the shoreline with nets for pelagics such as salmon, herring, and mackerel, and baited lines for groundfish.’
    • ‘The currents can be very strong, but this attracts the larger pelagics and with luck you will encounter tuna, barracuda, blacktip sharks and even whale sharks.’
    • ‘So don't expect too much in the way of pelagics, just enjoy the spectacle afforded by man's own contribution to the underwater environment.’
    • ‘Over the years, after a multiple strike of pelagics, I have generally followed the rule of putting the first fish aboard in the fish-box, and then releasing the rest.’
    • ‘Because the area was recently awarded the status of protected marine park, large fish and pelagics are returning in numbers.’
    • ‘Each day, in visibility of over 30 metres, we encounter black and white-tipped reef and grey sharks, large pelagics like dogtoothed tuna and many of the four hundred other species of fish which inhabit these waters.’
    • ‘Rich variety of life and coral on the reefs and walls in clear waters around the islands, plus plenty of turtles and large, cruising pelagics.’
    • ‘Schools of pelagics patrol the pinnacle - devilfish, samson, amberjacks, jewfish, trevally, mackerel and bullseyes, as well as black cod, spangled emperor and snapper.’
    • ‘There also tends to be more current here, preferred by some of the larger reef fishes and the pelagics.’
    • ‘There are many cleaning stations here and you will often encounter a large potato cod or pelagics such as jacks and barracuda visiting, in addition to the resident reef fish.’
    • ‘But we are also worried because in order to feed these tuna the industry needs other fleets which should fish for the small pelagics to be fed to tuna.’


Mid 17th century: via Latin from Greek pelagikos, from pelagios ‘of the sea’ (from pelagos ‘level surface of the sea’).