Definition of pelagic in US English:



  • 1Relating to the open sea.

    ‘the kittiwakes return from their pelagic winter wanderings’
    • ‘The pelagic environment is further divided based on water depth.’
    • ‘Most deep-sea trenches in the Pacific are floored by normal basaltic oceanic crust overlain by pelagic sediments and ash.’
    • ‘Aquatic ecologists have many models for size distributions of pelagic communities.’
    • ‘Here we report the results of an unusually early springtime study of pelagic microbial activity in the coastal Alaskan Arctic.’
    • ‘Mirrored and colored surfaces are common adaptations for crypsis in pelagic habitats.’
    1. 1.1 (chiefly of fish) inhabiting the upper layers of the open sea.
      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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘They hunt small schooling fish, squid and octopus, and are an important predator of large pelagic fish including tuna and swordfish.’
      • ‘The pelagic fish community is dominated by whitefish.’
      • ‘And sharks that range across the open ocean, known as oceanic or pelagic sharks, have been an even bigger mystery.’
      • ‘Their diet includes squid, skates, ratfish, rockfish, and octopus, as well as pelagic fishes such as mackerel and sardines.’
      • ‘Each year, every migration of every pelagic fish depends on where the plankton is and this is purely down to drift and current.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The silvery sheen displayed by many pelagic fishes is an example of structural color.’
      • ‘He wanted to target lucrative species that lived near the surface, the pelagic fish, such as sardinella, mackerel and horse mackerel.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Of the fishes, several pelagic species were found in many of the habitats sampled.’
      • ‘While blue whales may occasionally feed on pelagic crabs and small fishes, their diet is almost exclusively euphausiid shrimps commonly called krill.’
      • ‘Among coastal river otters in this region, sociality could be explained by the benefits obtained from cooperative foraging on high-quality schooling pelagic fishes.’
      • ‘Adult beluga sturgeon are mainly piscivores, swimming at middle depths and preying mostly on pelagic fish species.’
      • ‘However, aside from anecdotal reports of color changes in various pelagic fish, particularly billfish, little else is known.’
      • ‘Eleven companies each with a 15-year term will catch large pelagic fish.’
      • ‘The hors d' oeuvres consist of the small pelagic fish that swim in the natural eddy created by the country's jutting landmass.’
      • ‘These sites provide the most exciting diving, with shoaling barracuda and other pelagic fish, but sadly they tend to be few and far between.’
      • ‘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.’
      marine, ocean, oceanic
      View synonyms


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