PACIFIC OCEAN. The largest ocean, the Pacific covers one-third of the Earth's surface. People have lived with and sailed on its waters for thousands of years. European navigators only outlined its vastness between 1520 and 1799. Before the sixteenth century, voyagers from the Indonesian and western Pacific islands sailed into the central Pacific, establishing human settlements in even the most distant places, such as Rapa Nui (Easter Island) or Hawaii. Contact with South America even brought the sweet potato into Oceania. The deliberate voyaging of Pacific Islanders demonstrated practical knowledge of the major currents, wind patterns, and methods of island screens. Knowledge of the equatorial countercurrent, the great northern whirl, the great southern whirl, and forecasted wind seasons were part of their Oceanic expertise.
SPANISH AND PORTUGUESE EXPLORATION
In 1513 Vasco Nuñez de Balboa's (1475–1519) expedition left the Caribbean side of the Isthmus of Panama and crossed westward to the Pacific Ocean side, becoming the first Europeans to see the Great South Sea. In 1520 three ships commanded by Ferdinand Magellan (1480?–1521) sailed out of the stormy passage of the strait at the southern tip of South America into the Pacific Ocean and named it the peaceful, calm, quiet ocean. Magellan's voyage through the strait took three months and twenty days, and it weakened and dismayed the crew. With potentially thousands of islands in the Pacific to find, Magellan sailed by only three unpopulated islets before he reached the Mariana Islands (so named in 1668) in March 1521. After killing some of the natives and decrying their thievery, Magellan sailed on, labeling the islands Ladrones, Spanish for thieves. The next three centuries of European exploration, conquest, and colonization brought more fierce encounters in Oceania.
The 1494 Line of Demarcation agreed upon between the monarchs of Portugal and Castile established boundaries in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Without exact chronometers, their determination of longitude was mere guesswork. Disputes between the two expansive powers about east-west position arose in the Philippine Islands and the Moluccas. The Portuguese were content to establish mercantile contacts and limited control in the Spice Islands of Southeast Asia. Meanwhile the Spanish tentatively explored the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. Magellan's voyages were followed by voyages from the western coasts of Spanish-conquered lands. The García Jofre de Loaysa expedition of 1525–1527 crossed the southern Pacific Ocean from east to west, establishing a brief Spanish presence in Tidore. Andrés de Urdaneta (1498–1568) sailed on the Loaysa voyage and learned about the winds and currents. Urdaneta survived the failed colonization effort and eventually showed how west to east voyages could occur. Under the command of Miguel López de Legazpi (c. 1510–1572), six vessels sailed from La Navidad Harbor in Mexico to settle the Philippines. As navigator, Urdaneta guessed correctly that from the Philippines a ship could sail north toward Japan and catch the prevailing winds that would return it across the northern Pacific to the coasts of North America. The clockwise pattern of sailing across the Pacific functioned for the galleon trade from Manila to Acapulco and back until 1815. It was the only predictable connection for Europe in the Pacific Ocean until the exploratory voyages of the French and British navies in the latter half of the eighteenth century.
Spaniards also sailed from Callao, the port city of Peru. Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira (1541–1595) in 1567 sailed west from Peru into western Melanesia. The Spaniards named the islands after the biblical king Solomon in hopes of finding the legendary gold of King Solomon's mines. That they sailed through the waters of Polynesia is a remarkable fact of misguided yet dogged sailing. Almost thirty years later, in 1595, Mendaña equipped another four ships to sail west from Peru and this time landed on islands he named the Marquesas, after the wife of the viceroy of Peru. The Mendaña crew made it back to the Solomon Islands, but the colony failed again after Mendaña's death. Under Pedro Fernández de Quiros (1565–1615), the group sailed north to the Marianas and the Philippines. After provisioning in Manila, they returned by the established route to Mexico and back to Callao. In 1605 Quiros again sailed westward from Peru and came across the Tuamotu Islands, but the hope of finding the legendary great southern continent lured the two ships farther westward. His second in command, Luis Vaez de Torres (fl. 1606), sailed west from the Solomon Islands. The Torres Strait dividing New Guinea and Australia is named after him.
The annual Manila galleon trade left from the Philippines between May and September, hoping to cross the northern Pacific within six months and arrive in Acapulco by December. Upon arrival on the western shores of Mexico, the galleon's merchandise was off-loaded for sale and replaced with American silver, cacao, cochineal, oil, and wines in preparation for departure by March or April. The return voyage across the Pacific Ocean was expected to take three months, with a stop at the Mariana Islands for fresh water and supplies. The only long-lasting European outpost in Oceania existed on Guam, the largest of the Mariana Islands. The native Chamorros interacted with European ships once a year, with a few sailors staying longer. In 1668 the Jesuits obtained support from Queen Mariana of Spain to convert the inhabitants to Christianity. The motivating figure behind the request was Diego Luis de Sanvítores (1627–1672). He had sailed to the Philippines but always remembered the Chamorros he had briefly seen from the decks of the galleon as it passed Guam. The Jesuits came to Christianize, but the unintended consequences were rampant disease, tragic warfare, and a legacy of colonial oppression.
As the Spaniards explored routes across the Pacific, English commanders sought to obtain the wealth aboard the Spanish vessels. Francis Drake (1540/1543–1596) sailed through the Strait of Magellan in September 1578. He filled his ship with booty from raids on Spanish colonies and ships and, avoiding capture, sailed westward across the Pacific, eventually circumnavigating the globe. In 1587 Thomas Cavendish (c. 1560–1592) was even more successful when he captured the Manila galleon Santa Ana, full of gold, pearls, and silks on its return to Acapulco. The Spanish managed to defend their trade, even capturing later English raiders, such as Richard Hawkins (c. 1560–1622), who surrendered to a Spanish fleet off the coasts of California in 1594.
Dutch explorers also looked for profit in the Pacific. In 1598 five ships left Holland for the Pacific by way of the Strait of Magellan. The Portuguese and Spanish each captured a ship, the Japanese sacked another, and one was lost at sea. Only the ship Faith survived, returning to the Low Countries in 1600. Of the 491 original crew members, only 36 returned home. These losses were often expected when early modern Europeans sailed into the Pacific Ocean. In 1616 the Dutch ship Eendracht, commanded by Jakob Le Maire (1585–1616) and Willem Schouten (c. 1580–1625), pushed south far enough that they rounded the southern tip of South America and found a new way to enter the Pacific other than through the Strait of Magellan. As they sailed west, the Dutch sailors encountered islanders in the Tuamotus, Tonga, and New Guinea. Later Dutch explorers made other discoveries in the Pacific Ocean. In 1642 Abel Tasman (1603?–1659?) sailed from Batavia on the island of Java (modern-day Jakarta, Indonesia) into the southwestern reaches of the Pacific. He named Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania). He also named other lands after his Dutch states, including Staten Island (New Zealand). Sailing farther he came across the Tonga Islands of Haapai and later passed through the Fiji Islands. He can be credited as the first European explorer to enter the South Pacific from the west and to sail completely around Australia. In 1721 Jacob Roggeveen (1659–1729) hoped to discover the great southern continent. On Easter Day 1722 he landed at Rapa Nui (Easter Island), taking note of the tattooed inhabitants and large stone statues. He sailed back from the eastern Pacific, describing some of the northern Tuamotu Islands and the Manua Islands of Samoa. He made no permanent settlements.
British explorations in the eighteenth century were reanimated by the spectacular success of George Anson (1697–1762) in 1742. When Anson captured another Manila galleon, the reported booty in silver amounted to 400,000 pounds sterling. Afterward the Royal Navy commissioned John Byron (1723–1786) with two ships to discover islands for British possession in the South Seas. In 1765 Byron sailed into the Pacific Ocean and declared that two northern Tuamotu Islands and Pukapuka in the northern Cook Islands were British possessions. He resupplied at Tinian in the Mariana Islands and then returned to the British Isles by May 1766. Immediately afterward Samuel Wallis (1728–1795) departed with three ships, entering the Pacific in April 1767. He sailed less to the north than previous explorers had and in his westward line came across the island of Tahiti on 18 June 1767. With the European discovery of Tahiti, eighteenth-century Europeans sustained the enticing image of the noble savage and interacted with the many islanders.
After Wallis's return home in 1768, Captain James Cook (1728–1779) sailed on his first voyage to the Pacific with specific orders to observe the transit of Venus from Tahiti. He also sailed for Tasman's Staten Island, sailing around it completely. In so doing Cook proved that the two islands of New Zealand were definitely not part of some larger southern continent. On his second voyage (1772–1775) Cook proved that the southern continent did not exist, leaving the Pacific Ocean even larger than Europeans had thought possible. On his third voyage (1776) Cook sailed to the northwest coast of North America after visiting the familiar South Pacific islands. In December 1777 he sighted the island of Kauai in the eastern Hawaiian Archipelago. The islands of Hawaii were among the last of Oceania officially discovered by Europeans in the concluding years of the eighteenth century. Cook returned a year later to resupply after having had no success in finding the western end of the Northwest Passage. Hawaiians killed him at Kealakekua Bay in February 1779. Nonetheless other voyages by French and Spanish explorers followed in the wake of Cook.
The European exploration and intrusion into Oceania during the early modern era have diverging interpretations. The brave men, successful technology, and dogged persistence of Pacific exploration signaled a dynamic European desire to reach to every area of the world. The diseases, violence, and complex legacy of cultural contact in Oceania are the other side of the same coin.
See also Exploration ; Magellan, Ferdinand .
Finney, Ben. "The Other One-Third of the Globe." Journal of World History 5, no. 2 (1994): 273–297.
Hiroa, Te Rangi (Peter H. Buck). Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia. Honolulu, 1953.
Spate, O. H. K. Monopolists and Freebooters. Minneapolis, 1983.
——. Paradise Found and Lost. Minneapolis, 1988.
——. The Spanish Lake. Minneapolis, 1979.
James B. Tueller
Pacific Ocean, largest and deepest ocean, c.70,000,000 sq mi (181,300,000 sq km), occupying about one third of the earth's surface; named by the explorer Ferdinand Magellan; the southern part is also known as the South Sea.
Extent and Seas
The Pacific Ocean extends from the arctic to antarctic regions between North and South America on the east and Asia and Australia on the west. The international date line passes through it. It is connected with the Arctic Ocean by the Bering Strait; with the Atlantic Ocean by the Drake Passage, Straits of Magellan, and the Panama Canal; and with the Indian Ocean by passages in the Malay Archipelago and between Australia and Antarctica. Its maximum length is c.9,000 mi (14,500 km), and its greatest width c.11,000 mi (17,700 km), between the Isthmus of Panama and the Malay Peninsula. The principal arms of the Pacific Ocean are (in the north) the Bering Sea; (in the east) the Gulf of California; (in the south) Ross Sea; and (in the west) the Sea of Okhotsk, the Sea of Japan, and the Yellow, East China, South China, Philippine, Coral, and Tasman seas. Few large rivers drain into the Pacific Ocean; the largest are the Columbia of North America and the Huang He and Chang (Yangtze) of China.
Coastline and Islands
Along the E Pacific shore, generally, the coast rises abruptly from a deep seafloor to mountain heights on land, and there is a narrow continental shelf. The Asian coast is generally low and indented and is fringed with islands rising from a wide continental shelf. A series of volcanoes, the Circum-Pacific Ring of Fire, rims the Pacific basin.
The approximately 20,000 islands in the Pacific Ocean are concentrated in the south and west. Most of the larger islands are structurally part of the continent and rise from the continental shelf; these include the Japanese island arc, the Malay Archipelago, and the islands of NW North America and SW South America. Scattered around the Pacific and rising from the ocean floor are high volcanic islands (such as the Hawaiian Islands) and low coral islands (such as those of Oceania).
The floor of the Pacific Ocean, which has an average depth of c.14,000 ft (4,300 m), is largely a deep-sea plain. The greatest known depth (35,798.6 ft/10,911.5 m) is in the Challenger Deep in the Marianas trench c.250 mi (400 km) SW of Guam. Rising from the plain are swells (many of which are volcanic), seamounts, and guyots; the extensive Albatross Plateau covers most of the SE and E central Pacific basin.
Huge whirls, formed by the major ocean currents, are found roughly north and south of the equator; the Equatorial Counter Current separates them. The northern whirl is formed by the North Equatorial Current, Japan Current, North Pacific Drift, and California Current; the southern whirl is formed by the South Equatorial Current, East Australian Current, West Wind Drift, and Peruvian (or Humboldt) Current. There are many branch and feeder currents that help to constantly circulate ocean water of differing temperatures and salinities.
Commerce and Shipping
The principal commercial fishing areas in the Pacific are found in the shallower waters of the continental shelf; salmon, halibut, herring, sardines, and tuna are the chief catch. Most of the transpacific sea-lanes pass through the Hawaiian Islands; the chief Pacific ports are San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Tokyo-Yokohama, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Manila, and Sydney. Since the 1950s many of the South Pacific islands have become tourist centers.
Exploration and Settlement
The Pacific islands of the south and west were populated by migrants from Asia who crossed long distances of open sea in primitive boats, beginning some 3,400 years ago. Polynesian voyagers reached Easter Island, in the E South Pacific perhaps as early as AD 800, by which time they had also reached Hawaii. European travelers including Marco Polo had reported an ocean off Asia, and in the late 15th cent. trading ships had sailed around Africa to the western rim of the Pacific, but European recognition of the Pacific as distinct from the Atlantic Ocean dates from Balboa's sighting of its eastern shore (1513).
Magellan's crossing of the Philippines (1520–21) initiated a series of explorations, including those of Drake, Tasman, Dampier, Cook, Bering, and Vancouver, which by the end of the 18th cent. had disclosed the coastline and the major islands. In the 16th cent. supremacy in the Pacific area was shared by Spain and Portugal. The English and the Dutch established footholds in the 17th cent., France and Russia in the 18th, and Germany, Japan, and the United States in the 19th. Sealers and whalers sailed the Pacific from the late 18th cent., and Yankee clippers entered Pacific trade in the early 19th cent.
See G. Soule, The Greatest Depths (1970); E. S. Dodge, Beyond the Capes (1971); J. Gilbert, Charting the Vast Pacific (1971); V. S. Gorshkov, ed., Pacific Ocean (1976).