The HMS Challenger Project Team visiting museums

Hello! Heather here. Recently Holly and I spent the week at the Natural History Museum in London. This is packed with specimens dredged and trawled by HMS Challenger – most departments will have some sitting in their store cupboards somewhere! NHM (previously the British Museum) took in all the types collected from the expedition before passing off some duplicates to many museums around the world (Sydney, Lisbon, Toronto, Berlin just to name a few of the international ones). They were left with well over 10,000 Challenger specimens. A couple of weeks ago we visited both the life sciences and the palaeontology departments looking at bottom sediments, ostracods, forams, dry corals, echinoderms and sea pens. We found a big starfish…

Holly and Heather with a big starfish collected on the Challenger Expedition

Holly and Heather with a big starfish collected on the Challenger Expedition stored at NHM

A big box of blue mud dredged up from station 45 (3rd May 1873). Dredged from 1240 fathoms…

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Blue mud dredged off the East coast of the United States stored at NHM.

And then we found the sea pen. There was a particular sea pen we were wanting to find for a while. It didn’t come up on the NHM database search but we were determined that it was there somewhere! It is Umbellula thomsoni. It is in the class Anthozoa and the order Pennatulacea. The Umbellula genus was a rare zoological curiosity that was probably one of the first signs of deep-sea life and so it was a very exciting find for the Challenger crew! On top of it being rare, this particular specimen was an amazing example of bright phosphorescence exhibited in some marine life.  We are waiting for the specimen to be professionally photographed so I can’t show it to you yet but hopefully will be able to soon! Once back from NHM I had one week back in the office at RAMM and then disappeared off to the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff for 4 days to photograph some molluscs, including lots and lots of tiny shells! The majority of these were 6mm or smaller and so it was quite a fiddly job. We also got to photograph some bigger molluscs though – like octopus and squid.

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Shells found off of the Azores, Portugal stored at NMW

Some squid caught at station 313, by Argentina

Some squid caught at station 313 by Argentina stored at NMW.

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Some true whelks found off of Brazil stored at NMW.

Next stop is Dublin in 11 days time to visit the National Museum of Ireland. We are keeping busy here on the Challenger project!

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The Sladen collection from HMS Challenger

The Percy Sladen Collection

Here at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum we are lucky enough to have the Percy Sladen collection, part of which was collected on the HMS Challenger throughout the exhibition. Percy Sladen was a scientist born on 30th June 1849 who grew a good reputation as a biologist.

Percy Sladen portrait

He was presented the starfish material to identify after the exhibition was over. He was the only person Thomson and Carpenter (who led the expedition) could find that would be capable of managing to analyse the starfish. The ship had covered about 70,000 nautical miles and over the 354 stations sampled the crew had collected a lot of starfish! Sladen travelled all around Europe to speak to and gain connections with specialists that could help him a long the way. It is said that his hard work and dedication to the project could have been linked to his early death. He died in 1903 and his wife gave the whole collection to RAMM to make sure it was kept together.

Parts of the Percy Sladen Collection from the HMS Challenger

Take a look at a few of the pieces he studied…

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The picture on the left shows a small starfish whose latin name is ‘Lophaster stellans’. This little star doesn’t seem to have a common name. As you can see, the starfish was found south of Wellington island (off of Chile). We also know that is was found on ‘blue mud’. As far as we know, blue mud is so called because of the blue colour caused by organic material and iron sulphide. It is made up of silt and clay. Another thing to notice on the label is that it is from station 308 so we know that it was found in January 1876.

The picture on the right shows a couple of starfish – a different species ‘Chaetaster longpipes’. These were found off Bermuda at station 36 on some coral- so a few years earlier in April 1873.

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Another starfish from Sladen’s collection

All the collection is catalogued – he had a lot of specimens that aren’t Challenger specimens too. We are in the process of putting the Challenger data in to a suitable format for our new database. I just realised I haven’t updated you on that yet! We are speaking to museums around the country and also abroad at the moment to talk to them about the project. We are slowly getting our data and data from the Natural History Museum together. We are using this to create fields for the database and to start designing the website. Once we have a secure design and the initial data is uploaded and tested, we will be moving on to further museums to add their collections.

For anyone that has clicked on this post and is not aware of what the project is about, click here!

Speak to you all soon!