How many oceans are there in the world?

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While there is one global interconnected ocean, this massive body of water surrounding all land masses on Earth can be further subdivided based on historical, geographic, and cultural factors.

The number of oceans in the world depends on the perspective. The designation of the world’s oceans has evolved over time. There is one global ocean. This world ocean covers 71% of the Earth’s surface.

Depending on the designation, there are 3, 4, or 5 oceans in the world

One Earth, there are three major oceans: The Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian.  Historically there are four ocean basins that include the three major oceans and the Arctic Ocean.  The Southern Ocean is a fairly recently named addition (2000) that is not universally recognized by all countries and organizations and has yet to be ratified by the international community (see next section).  For example, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names recognizes the Southern Ocean while National Geographic does not.

The animated GIF below shows the names of the world’s oceans based on one global ocean, the three major oceans, the four historic oceans, and the five world oceans.

Map of the world's oceans. By: Quizimodo, MediaWiki Commons.
Map of the world’s oceans. By: Quizimodo, MediaWiki Commons.

How are the Ocean Borders and Names Determined?

The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), which first convened in 1919 (and was originally referred to as the International Hydrographic Bureau (IHB)), is the inter-governmental organization that creates the international agreement of ocean borders and names.  The outcomes of each convention are published in the Limits of Oceans and Seas

Watch: How many oceans are there?


IHO (International Hydrographic Organization), 2000. Report of the International Hydrographic Organisation. Working Paper No. 57 (WP 57). 20th Session of the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names, (New York), 17–28 January 2000.

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