The Difference Between Sea And Ocean

The difference between sea and ocean lies both in size and proximity to land. An ocean is a vast body of water whereas a sea is a comparatively small and partially confined body of water surrounded by land. For example, the Atlantic Ocean compared to the adjacent Mediterranean Sea.

When it comes to bodies of water, there are two that are often mixed up: oceans and seas. However, the one difference between the two is simple. What sets oceans and seas apart is that seas are partially enclosed by land.

Although colloquially most people use the words “sea” and “ocean” interchangeably, it is important we know what both terms mean accurately. Having said that, it is true that most people refer to seas like the Mediterranean or the Caribbean correctly as “seas”. The most common problem is when they refer to oceans wrongly as seas, for example, when talking about the Atlantic.

A good example in popular culture is the song “Manchester, England” from the Broadway musical (and movie adaptation) “Hair”:

Manchester, England, England

Across the Atlantic Sea

And I’m a genius, genius

I believe in God

And I believe that God

Believes in Claude

That’s me, that’s me

The song refers to the Atlantic as “the Atlantic Sea” instead of the “Atlantic Ocean.”

What Are the Oceans?

Following the difference between seas and oceans, we could say that there is only one ocean, the World Ocean. After all, there is one contiguous body of water that covers 71 percent of our planet.

“You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” — Christopher Columbus

But historically this body of water has been divided into different regions, known as oceans. The boundaries of these oceans have changed over time and the current four or five oceans are the results of hundreds of years of historical, cultural, scientific, and geographical evolution.

The main four oceans are:

  • The Atlantic Ocean
  • The Pacific Ocean
  • The Indian Ocean
  • The Arctic Ocean

Most countries know also recognized the Southern or Antarctic Ocean. So, for most countries in the world, there are currently five oceans on planet earth.

Each of these five oceans includes several seas, which is where things get complicated.

Let’s now look at the seas in each ocean.

Seas in the Atlantic Ocean

In the Americas‘ portion of the Atlantic Ocean, there are several seas:

Atlantic Seas In Americas
Buzzards Bay
Caribbean Sea (Gulf of Gonâve, Gulf of Honduras, Golfo de los Mosquitos, Gulf of Venezuela, Gulf of Paria, Gulf of Derién)
Delaware Bay
Gulf of Maine (Bay of Fundy, Massachusetts Bay, Cape Cod Bay)
Gulf of Mexico (Bay of Campeche, Campeche Bank)
Gulf of St Lawrence
Long Island Sound
Nantucket Bay
Narragansett Bay
New York Bay
Argentine Sea
Chesapeake Bay
Davis Strait
Labrador Sea

These are the seas in Europe, Asia, and Africa portions of the Atlantic Ocean:

Atlantic Seas In Europe/Asia/Africa
Baltic Sea (Archipelago Sea, Bothnian Sea, Central Baltic Sea, Gulf of Riga, Oresund Strait, Sea of Åland)
Bay of Biscay (Cantabrian Sea)
Mediterranean Sea (Adriatic Sea, Aegean Sea (Myrtoan Sea, Sea of Crete, Thracian Sea), Alboran Sea, Balearic Sea, Catalan Sea, Cilician Sea, Gulf of Sidra, Ionian Sea, Levantine Sea, Libyan Sea, Ligurian Sea, Sea of Sardinia, Sea of Sicily (Inland Sea, Gozo), Tyrrhenian Sea)
North Sea (Wadden Sea)
Black Sea
Celtic Sea
English Channel
Gulf of Guinea
Irish Sea
Marmara Sea
Norwegian Sea
Sea of Azov

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” — Jacques Yves Cousteau

The Northern Islands are also home to several seas:

  • Irminger Sea
  • Denmark Strait
  • Irish Sea
  • Inner Seas of the West Coast of Scotland (Sea of the Hebrides)

Apart from all these oceans, there is also a sea in the Atlantic Ocean that is not defined by its geographical location but by currents. It is the Sargasso Sea (also known as the North Atlantic Gyre).

Seas in the Arctic Ocean

Seas In the Arctic
Barents Sea (Pechora Sea, White Sea)
Hudson Bay (James Bay)
Hudson Strait
Queen Victoria Sea
Baffin Bay
Beaufort Sea
Chukchi Sea
East Siberian Sea
Greenland Sea
Kara Sea
Laptev Sea
Lincoln Sea
Northwest Passages (Prince Gustav Adolf Sea, Amundsen Gulf)
Wandel Sea

Seas in the Southern Ocean (Antarctic)

Seas In the Southern Ocean
Drake Sea
Gulf St Vincent
Investigator Strait
Amundsen Sea
Bass Strait
Bellingshausen Sea
Cooperation Sea
Cosmonauts Sea
D’Urville Sea
Davis Sea
Great Australian Bight
King Haakon VII Sea
Lazarev Sea
Mawson Sea
Riiser-Larsen Sea
Ross Sea
Scotia Sea
Somov Sea
Spencer Gulf
Weddell Sea

Seas in the Indian Ocean

Seas In the Indian Ocean
Andaman Sea (Gulf of Moattama)
Arabian Sea
Bay of Bengal
Gulf of Aden
Gulf of Oman
Laccadive Sea
Mozambique Channel
Persian Gulf
Red Sea
Timor Sea

Seas in the Pacific Ocean

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” — Jon Kabat-Zan

The seas in the Americas portion of the Pacific Ocean are as follows:

  • Bering Sea
  • Chilean Sea
  • Sea of Chiloé
  • Gulf of Alaska
  • Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortés)
  • Mar de Grau
  • Salish Sea

The seas in the Asia and Oceania portion of the Pacific Ocean are the following:

Seas In The Pacific Ocean (Asia/Oceania)
Arafura Sea
Bali Sea
Banda Sea
Bismarck Sea
Bohai Sea
Bohol Sea (also known as Mindanao Sea)
Camotes Sea
Celebes Sea
Coral Sea
East China Sea
Flores Sea
Gulf of Carpentaria
Gulf of Thailand
Halmahera Sea
Java Sea
Koro Sea
Molucca Sea
Philippine Sea
Savu Sea
sea of Japan
sea of Okhotsk
Seto Inland Sea
Sibuyan Sea
Solomon Sea
South China Sea
Sulu Sea
Tasman Sea
Visayan Sea
Yellow Sea

To complete the list of seas we would have to also include all the salt lakes that have the word “sea” as part of their names:

  • Aral Sea
  • Caspian Sea
  • Dead Sea
  • Salton Sea

And also freshwater lakes that have the word “sea” as part of their names, such as the Sea of Galilee.

Finally, there are all the small fjords, straits, and bays, that would just be too many to name.