Visual performance and visual interactions in pelagic animals are notoriously hard to investigate because of our restricted access to the habitat. The pelagic visual world is also dramatically different from benthic or terrestrial habitats, and our intuition is less helpful in understanding vision in unfamiliar environments. Here, we develop a computational approach to investigate visual ecology in the pelagic realm. Using information on eye size, key retinal properties, optical properties of the water and radiance, we develop expressions for calculating the visual range for detection of important types of pelagic targets. We also briefly apply the computations to a number of central questions in pelagic visual ecology, such as the relationship between eye size and visual performance, the maximum depth at which daylight is useful for vision, visual range relations between prey and predators, counter-illumination and the importance of various aspects of retinal physiology. We also argue that our present addition to computational visual ecology can be developed further, and that a computational approach offers plenty of unused potential for investigations of visual ecology in both aquatic and terrestrial habitats.