Exploring Our Oceans: The Challenger Expedition and Its Legacy

The Challenger ship

This exhibition has now closed. It ran from July to January 2023.

This free display of historic and contemporary images and specimens marks the 150th anniversary of the Challenger expedition - a ground-breaking scientific endeavour to sail around the world and systematically study the oceans for the very first time.

Until the Challenger expedition, the depths of the oceans were one of the great unknowns, having never been explored before. At the time, questions were being raised about whether life could even be sustained in their greatest depths. From 1872 to 1876, the Challenger expedition recorded data and collected thousands of specimens, fundamentally transforming our knowledge of the oceans. 

Scientists both at the Museum and around the world continue to study the data and the specimens collected by the expedition 150 years ago. Using new techniques, they are gaining a deeper understanding of the impact that human activities and climate change are having on the ocean ecosystems we all rely on.

Highlights include:

  • prints of photographs taken during the expedition
  • specimens collected during the voyage
  • illustrations of marine life from the published reports
  • expedition reports including the 1875 logbook in which the deepest sounding is recorded 
  • Examples of current scientific research, which highlight the Challenger expedition's legacy



Challenger Expedition Sounding Book from 1875, which includes a record of the voyage's greatest depth measurement.

Octopus drawing

Illustration of the Octopus (Octopus hongkongensis) from the Report on the Scientific Results of the Voyage of HMS Challenger, Volume 16, 1886.

Giant crab

Giant Japanese spider crab, (Macrocheira kaempferi,) collected by the Challenger expedition off the coast of Japan in 1875.