Explorer Ferdinand Magellan Named the Pacific Ocean in the 16th Century

pacific ocean
Ferdinand Magellan

A portrait of explorer Ferdinand Magellan

In 1519, Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan, in the employ of Spain, began a journey across the Atlantic Ocean to seek a western route to the Spice Islands via South America.

After braving perilous seas and navigating through what are now known as the Straits of Magellan, his small fleet entered an unfamiliar ocean in Nov. 1520. He called this body of water pacific, due to the calmness of the water at the time ('pacific' means peaceful).

When Magellan and his crew entered the Pacific Ocean after their long journey, they thought that the Spice Islands were close at hand. Little did they know that their destination remained thousands of miles away. The explorers had ventured into the largest ocean on Earth.

Covering approximately 155 million square kilometers and containing more than half of the free water on Earth, the Pacific is by far the largest of the world's ocean basins. All of the world's continents could fit into the Pacific basin!

For more information:

'Strait Through: Magellan to Cook & the Pacific,' Princeton University

How many oceans are there? (Ocean Fact)

What's the difference between an ocean and a sea? (Ocean Fact)