Few genetic data are currently available to assess patterns of population differentiation and speciation in planktonic taxa that inhabit the open ocean. A phylogenetic study of the oceanic copepod family Eucalanidae was undertaken to develop a model zooplankton taxon in which speciation events can be confidently identified. A global survey of 20 described species (526 individuals) sampled from 88 locations worldwide found high levels of cryptic diversity at the species level. Mitochondrial (16S rRNA, CO1) and nuclear (ITS2) DNA sequence data support 12 new genetic lineages as highly distinct from other populations with which they are currently considered conspecific. Out of these 12, at least four are new species. The circumglobal, boundary current species Rhincalanus nasutus was found to be a cryptic species complex, with genetic divergence between populations unrelated to geographic distance. ‘Conspecific’ populations of seven species exhibited varying levels of genetic differentiation between Atlantic and Pacific basins, suggesting that continental landmasses form barriers to dispersal for a subset of circumglobal species. A molecular phylogeny of the family based on both mitochondrial (16S rRNA) and nuclear (ITS2, 18S rRNA) gene loci supports monophyly of the family Eucalanidae, all four eucalanid genera and the ‘pileatus’ and 'subtenuis' species groups.