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Voted "#3 worst place to embark" in 78 AD.

An ocean is an immense volume of salt water. Oceans are often bordered by sandy beaches, where driftwood can be found. Marshes and swamps also tend to form around oceanic coastlines, especially near rivers. The land surrounding oceans also tends to have a high water table, resulting in aquifers close to the surface.

Oceans are an excellent source of food for a new fortress, usually having tons of fish, and contain shell-bearing creatures like oysters and mussels. However, sometimes when you embark on a coast, you might receive announcements like "There is nothing to catch in <some area>". If this happens, you won't be able to fish in the ocean in this embark; you may wish to abandon the fort and start again elsewhere.

There are three varieties of oceans, based on temperature, which affects the sea life found there: Arctic, Temperate and Tropical. Oceans in a freezing climate (usually arctic oceans) will freeze, just like rivers and pools, acting like a glacier.

While by default it's impossible to embark in an ocean biome exclusively, DFHack offers an option to bypass this restriction. However, in order to found a fort, one must also embark on a site that is at least partly Arctic ocean, to provide ice for an initial foothold.

Ocean waves[edit]

Best place to keep alcohol cold.

Waves will periodically wash over the coast - the tiles will not get wet. However, if a wave washes over a staircase, the floors below it will be slowly flooded. Cave moss will not grow in the mud left by salt water. The waves move over all natural tiles, and seem to move independently of constructed tiles like walls and floors. Be mindful not to carve away natural walls and allow tide to enter your fort, and cause excess slowdown. Sea walls can be built to block waves and protect beach areas, but need to be completely closed off to be effective. Waves also have a tendency to move items left on the beach, so it is inadvisable to place stockpiles too close to the shore—also beware that this effect means that dwarves can be knocked unconscious if hit by driftwood washed in from waves.

Since ocean waves do not actually move the water in the tiles below them, they do not create flow. Thus, waves cannot power a water wheel, making tidal energy generation much more difficult.

In adventure mode, being pushed by ocean waves occasionally increases swimming skill without the risk of drowning.

Ocean floor geology[edit]

The ocean floor will be made up of entire layers of, or combinations of, the following:

Most of these layers also support aquifers, which are saltwater like the surrounding ocean, making the extraction of these materials rather difficult in fortress mode. Limestone is a notable exception, making it ideal for excavation from below since it is also a flux material.


Almost all tiles next to oceans have aquifers, which require fairly complicated schemes to sidestep. In addition, oceans are salt water resources, requiring desalination with a screw pump into a cistern to use for drinking. On the other hand, you have an inexhaustible source of water for fishing, drowning chambers, and so forth, as well as a spawning point for some very big and very meat-profitable creatures: sperm whales, orcas, and the like.


In arctic oceans, with a by-definition freezing climate, none of the aquatic vermin or creatures will be present when the water freezes over. This leaves only terrestrial and amphibious animals to appear, because they are able to live on land.


Name Graphic Arctic ocean Temperate ocean Tropical ocean
a Albatross Albatross sprite.png
s Angelshark Angelshark sprite.png
S Basking shark Basking shark sprite.png
s Blacktip reef shark Blacktip reef shark sprite.png
S Blue shark Blue shark sprite.png
α Bluefin tuna Bluefin tuna sprite.png
α Bluefish Bluefish sprite.png
S Bull shark Bull shark sprite.png
α Cod Cod sprite.png
C Coelacanth Coelacanth sprite.png
ò Common skate Common skate sprite.png
~ Conger eel Conger eel sprite.png
c Crab Crab sprite.png
S Elephant seal Elephant seal sprite.png
p Emperor penguin Emperor penguin sprite.png
s Frill shark Frill shark sprite.png
G Giant grouper Giant grouper sprite.png
b Great barracuda Great barracuda sprite.png
S Great white shark Great white shark sprite.png
α Halibut Halibut sprite.png
S Hammerhead shark Hammerhead shark sprite.png
H Harp seal Harp seal sprite.png
c Horseshoe crab Horseshoe crab sprite.png
L Leopard seal Leopard seal sprite.png
p Little penguin Little penguin sprite.png
S Longfin mako shark Longfin mako shark sprite.png
Manta ray Manta ray sprite.png
α Marlin Marlin sprite.png
α Milkfish Milkfish sprite.png
N Narwhal Narwhal sprite.png
S Nurse shark Nurse shark sprite.png
α Ocean sunfish Ocean sunfish sprite.png
o Octopus Octopus sprite.png
α Opah Opah sprite.png
O Orca Orca sprite.png
o Osprey Osprey sprite.png
p Penguin Penguin sprite.png
p Puffin Puffin sprite.png
~ Sea lamprey Sea lamprey sprite.png
o Sea otter Sea otter sprite.png
S Shortfin mako shark Shortfin mako shark sprite.png
W Sperm whale Sperm whale sprite.png
s Spiny dogfish Spiny dogfish sprite.png
s Sponge Sponge sprite.png
S Spotted wobbegong Spotted wobbegong sprite.png
ò Stingray Stingray sprite.png
α Sturgeon Sturgeon sprite.png
S Tiger shark Tiger shark sprite.png
α Swordfish Swordfish sprite.png
W Walrus Walrus sprite.png
S Whale shark Whale shark sprite.png
s Whitetip reef shark Whitetip reef shark sprite.png

In savage oceans:

Name Graphic Arctic ocean Temperate ocean Tropical ocean
a Albatross man Albatross man sprite.png
c Crab man Crab man sprite.png
c Cuttlefish man Cuttlefish man sprite.png
S Elephant seal man Elephant seal man sprite.png
A Giant albatross Giant albatross sprite.png
C Giant crab Giant crab sprite.png
C Giant cuttlefish Giant cuttlefish sprite.png
S Giant elephant seal Giant elephant seal sprite.png
H Giant harp seal Giant harp seal sprite.png
C Giant horseshoe crab Giant horseshoe crab sprite.png
L Giant leopard seal Giant leopard seal sprite.png
S Giant moon snail Giant moon snail sprite.png
N Giant narwhal Giant narwhal sprite.png
N Giant nautilus Giant nautilus sprite.png
O Giant octopus Giant octopus sprite.png
O Giant orca Giant orca sprite.png
O Giant osprey Giant osprey sprite.png
P Giant penguin Giant penguin sprite.png
P Giant puffin Giant puffin sprite.png
W Giant sperm whale Giant sperm whale sprite.png
S Giant sponge Giant sponge sprite.png
W Giant walrus Giant walrus sprite.png
S Gigantic squid Gigantic squid sprite.png
h Harp seal man Harp seal man sprite.png
c Horseshoe crab man Horseshoe crab man sprite.png
L Leopard seal man Leopard seal man sprite.png
s Moon snail man Moon snail man sprite.png
N Narwhal man Narwhal man sprite.png
n Nautilus man Nautilus man sprite.png
o Octopus man Octopus man sprite.png
O Orca man Orca man sprite.png
o Osprey man Osprey man sprite.png
p Penguin man Penguin man sprite.png
p Puffin man Puffin man sprite.png
S Sea serpent Sea serpent sprite.png
W Sperm whale man Sperm whale man sprite.png
s Sponge man Sponge man sprite.png
s Squid man Squid man sprite.png
W Walrus man Walrus man sprite.png

In good oceans:

Name Graphic Arctic ocean Temperate ocean Tropical ocean
M Merperson Merperson sprite anim.gif

In evil oceans:

Name Graphic Arctic ocean Temperate ocean Tropical ocean
M Sea monster Sea monster sprite.png


Name Graphic Arctic ocean Temperate ocean Tropical ocean
α Anchovy Anchovy sprite.png
ò Bat ray Bat ray sprite.png
~ Brook lamprey Brook lamprey sprite.png
α Clownfish Clownfish sprite.png
Cuttlefish Cuttlefish sprite.png
α Flounder Flounder sprite.png
α Glasseye Glasseye sprite.png
~ Hagfish Hagfish sprite.png
α Hake Hake sprite.png
α Herring Herring sprite.png
α Mackerel Mackerel sprite.png
Moon snail Moon snail sprite.png
m Mussel Mussel sprite.png
Nautilus Nautilus sprite.png
o Oyster Oyster sprite.png
α Salmon Salmon sprite.png
Ω Sea nettle jellyfish Sea nettle jellyfish sprite.png
α Seahorse Seahorse sprite.png
α Shad Shad sprite.png
α Sole Sole sprite.png
α Spotted ratfish Spotted ratfish sprite.png
Squid Squid sprite.png
α Steelhead trout Steelhead trout sprite.png
ò Thornback ray Thornback ray sprite.png
α White-spotted puffer White spotted puffer sprite.png

In good oceans:

Name Graphic Arctic ocean Temperate ocean Tropical ocean
Fairy Fairy sprite.png
· Pixie Pixie sprite anim.gif

Starting on an arctic ocean[edit]

While by default it's impossible to embark in an ocean biome exclusively, DFHack offers an option to bypass this restriction. However, out of the three ocean biomes, only the arctic ocean can be feasibly embarked on, having a frozen surface year-round; although it is possible to choose a site that contains other oceanic biomes as well and expand over water or undeground. As it offers few resources, having only a thick layer of ice with deep water underneath it, surviving in this biome may prove to be very difficult, and should be reserved for a challenge only.


You have to disable cave-ins in d_init.txt and keep them this way all the time. As the map edges do not provide support for the ice sheet, it would otherwise collapse into the water below, killing everyone in the resulting mayhem.

Alternatively, send in a sacrificial group for the first embark and allow the surface ice to cave in and kill everyone, then reclaim the site. This has the added quirk of creating solid ice all the way down to the ocean floor, which lowers the difficulty immensely.

Embark build[edit]

The frozen surface of the ocean offers nothing but ice and salt water, therefore requiring you to bring all the necessary supplies with yourself. Here is a comprehensive list of what you will need:

  • Sand - If your civilization has access to bituminous coal or lignite, green glass is the most cost-efficient material to make items out of. If not, bring a lot of wood instead, as stone can be mined out of the ocean floor, assuming there is an area that is solid ice down to the bottom. Ice can also be used for construction.
  • Brewable fruits - While booze can be chosen on embark, fruits give five times as much for the same price. In addition, choosing brewable items instead of booze will allow you the freedom to retire your fort if you so desire, as they won't get wasted instantly even if the game dumps them all out of their containers. They come up in bags but can't be brewed as suchBug:7423, requiring you to dump them out beforehand. They can, however, be eaten by dwarves, requiring you to make a large supply of pots early to brew all of them as soon as possible, or to forbid them so they won't be touched until you want them brewed. If you like to switch between fortresses via retire/unretire, brew sparingly so you don't waste the items, and forbid what you don't immediately need to use. Buy at least one of each type of booze at embark anyway, as they come in barrels, which you'll want for brewing.
  • Stone - Mainly for mechanisms and blocks. Should be enough for a line of cage traps in your fortress entrance. Cages themselves can be made out of glass.
  • Wood - For beds, because your dwarves have to sleep somewhere. Not recommended for anything else, because it may get damaged by low temperatures. If you do not have access to bituminous coal or lignite, this is your main source of fuel until you find magma.
  • Ore - For weapons, necessary for hunting down wildlife, and to establish a basic defense, preferably made of bronze or bismuth bronze, but use copper if you lack the necessary ingredients. Iron ores are four times as expensive, and you can always request them from the caravan later on.
  • Poultry - An efficient and reliable food source. Eggs are laid in nest boxes and have to be cooked to be edible. Can also be bred and slaughtered for meat, tallow, skin, and bone, which in turn can be used to craft crossbows, bolts, and basic armor.
  • Milk - Comes in barrels and costs less than wood. Buy one of each type instead of buying logs for barrels to save a few points on embark. At z-level 101 or higher in arctic ocean biomes, milk freezes and remains usable even if dumped out by retiring; prepared meals with frozen milk as the solid ingredient likewise do not melt.
  • One anvil, so you don't have to wait for the caravan before you can forge anything.

Obtaining food[edit]

Besides the livestock and trading, wild animals such as penguins and seals will occasionally enter the map and may be hunted down for meat. This is most easily done using the melee method, once you've forged the basic weaponry. You may also channel a hole in ice to fish in it, although the ocean will often lack fish.

If you are using a sacrificial embark, you could stock it with a lot of food to give your real embark's animals time to multiply. You could then dig down to the rock layer at the bottom of the ocean and build a farm.

Obtaining drink[edit]

This is arguably the most difficult part, as the salt water is unsuitable for drinking and will freeze if you try to pump it out to desalinate it. In general, the only available drink is booze, and the only source of it is the dwarven caravan, as no other civilizations will travel through the ocean. Manage your supplies carefully.

You could also build a well. If you dig deep enough, retiring and unretiring will cause your tunnels to fill with water. Furthermore, you do not need to choose a site that is wholly an arctic ocean biome. Pick a location with warmer waters as well as permanent ice, and you can have water for at least part of the year.

Though beautiful, still tastes like salt.
"Ocean" in other Languages Books-aj.svg aj ashton 01.svg
Dwarven: migrur
Elven: romi
Goblin: strabo
Human: sota
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