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As with almost all systems on Earth, the ocean is vast and complicated. To make studying the ocean easier, scientists divide it into zones. This lesson dives into the pelagic zone, defining it and discussing some key facts related to this zone.

What Is the Pelagic Zone?

It’s hard to believe that in the 21st century there are still parts of the world we have yet to explore. Yet this is absolutely true, particularly when it comes to the ocean. Just let that sink in a moment: the oceans are so vast that entire portions have yet to be scanned, mapped, and recorded.

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Entire ecosystems could possibly be discovered. It’s this vastness that leads scientists to make several divisions in the ocean system in order to better study its separate parts.Luckily for us, the pelagic zone is one of the easiest to identify. The pelagic zone is any water in an ocean or lake that is neither near the shore nor near the bottom. The reason we exclude the shore and the bottom is because these are two totally different zones and have totally different properties. The pelagic zone is basically everything else; it’s the open water in which countless lifeforms live and swim around.

Divisions of the Pelagic Zone

Naturally, scientists are not content to give the vast, open ocean a name and leave it at that.

Instead, they have further divided the pelagic zone into subzones based on depth, such as the epipelagic, near the top of the zone where light is still found, and the abyssopelagic, closer to the bottom where there is no light. The main reason scientists do this is because life acts very differently in each of these zones. As you go deeper into the ocean, sunlight becomes dimmer and dimmer, leading to dramatically differently living conditions for the animals that swim there.

Life in the Pelagic Zone

If we tried to list out each species that lives in the pelagic zone,we’d almost certainly crash the Study.com servers! Since the pelagic zone is all of the ocean that is not the shore nor the bottom, that leaves a vast area left over in which to live.

Anything that floats or swims in the open ocean is considered to be a lifeform of the pelagic zone.Whales, dolphins, fish, sea turtles, plankton, and otters are just a select few creatures that make the pelagic zone their home. It is important to keep in mind, however, that some of these creatures can make their way into other zones of the ocean – or even onto land. Sea turtles, for example, build nests on shore to lay their eggs.

They don’t live their entire lives in the pelagic. Whales and many fish, on the other hand, spend their entire lives in the pelagic.The availability of sunlight near the top of the water’s surface leads to a greater abundance of life in the uppermost levels of the pelagic zone.

Species of plankton that produce their own food (using the same process as plants) thrive there, leading many fish species to linger near the surface. As you dive deeper in the pelagic and the availability of sunlight diminishes, the number of species tends to decrease.

Lesson Summary

To make studying the vast ocean easier, scientists divide it into different zones. The pelagic zone is any ocean or lake water that is neither near the shore nor close to the bottom. The pelagic is further divided into subzones based on depth. The pelagic zone is enormous, leading to a huge variety of sea life, much of it living closer to the surface due to the availability of sunlight.

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