Challenging the Deep

In December 1872, the H.M.S. Challenger, a re-tooled British naval ship outfitted with some of the most sophisticated scientific equipment of the times, left Portsmouth, England to take a crew of sailors and scientists around the globe on what is today widely regarded as the first major oceanographic expedition in modern science. In celebration of its launch in a cold winter 144 years ago, we excerpt from our Fall 2016 exhibit “Challenging the Deep: The Voyage & Revelations of H.M.S. Challenger” to give this historic voyage our December spotlight.

H.M.S Challenger Amongst the Ice February 14th 1874, by B. Shepard. 

Funded by the Royal Society of London, the Challenger set out to the explore the world’s oceans through sounding and dredging – measuring the depth of the water and bringing up material from the ocean floor. But while this main mission was primarily geological in scope, her crew discovered, documented, and collected samples of thousands of marine creatures.  The scientific crew made meticulous drawings and preserved specimens in jars, both of which became objects of intense study by English and European scientists for years after the expedition.  

A goosefish (Lophius naresi) in print…

…and preserved.

Among the advanced scientific equipment on board the Challenger, was a full photographic darkroom and precision stereo microscopes. Planktonic creatures like this shrimp larva – only a few millimeters long – could not have been recorded in such detail before such optics existed.

The Challenger expedition produced so much information that its findings are collected in a 50 volume report that took 19 years to publish in its entirety.  This vast wealth of data about the ocean and its inhabitants is still searched through and referenced by 21st century researchers, forming the first core text of the modern science of oceanography.  

The Challenger’s laboratory

“Challenging the Deep: The Voyage & Revelations of H.M.S. Challenger” looks at the voyage, the discoveries her crew made while dredging and sounding the deepest parts of the world’s oceans, and the legacy of oceanic science that has followed in her wake.  The exhibit is on display in the Mann Library lobby through March 2017.

This is a giant Monkfish (Lophius). They are well known off the coasts of Europe. The grotesque shape of its body and its singular habits attracted the attention of naturalists of all ages.

@dustin-parrish replied to your post: [pm] Thanks for not freaking out about what I told…

[pm] Wait, didn’t I mention, also Quinn and I got matching tattoos! And oh my god, that is not even an insult, that thing is super cute! Unlike you, you bathroom-hogging Condylura cristata.

[pm] That is illegal, big brother. You’re not eighteen yet. Plus you said that you had never done anything illegal, so I win.

Star nosed moles are great, the thing I called you is hideous oh my god, you Lophius.


“American Anglerfish” (Lophius americanus)

Also knwon as the Molligut, satchel-mouth, devil-fish, bellows-fish or wide-gape Lophius americanus is a species of Anglerfish (Lophiidae) which occurs along the eastern coast of North America. Like most other lophiiform fish American anglerfish are ambush predators, spending most of thier time hidden on the seabed covered in sediment, waiting for suitable prey items like fish and cephalopods to pass. 


Animalia-Chordata-Actinopterygii-Lophiiformes-Lophiidae-Lophius-L. americanus

Images: OAR and NOAA