The Discovery Collections

The Discovery Collections comprises both benthic and pelagic samples from many parts of the World's oceans. They have a long and illustrious history beginning in 1925 when the first samples were collected in the Southern Ocean by Scott’s ship Discovery.

The collection of these samples was funded by a levy on whale oil processing in the Falkland Islands, and was aimed at understanding more about whale biology and their environment. As a result, many of these early samples were pelagic, focusing on krill an important food source for whales.

The Discovery Collections - an international resource for deep-sea taxonomy and ecology.


Even from the outset many benthic samples were also obtained. During these early years the Discovery Collections consisted entirely of Southern Ocean samples. After 1951 sample collection shifted from the Southern Ocean to the eastern North Atlantic. Initially research was conducted in the pelagic realm and much of the material in the collection from 1952 to the early 1970's is from the water column. Some benthic material was collected during these years from the West African Margin. After 1972 benthic research became of greater importance and major benthic surveys were made off the continental shelf of the UK.

TheDiscovery Collections are now split into two parts. The first, consisting of the early Southern Ocean material and much of the early North Atlantic material, largely up to 1975, is housed at the Natural History Museum in London. This material has played an important role in advancing our understanding of the biology of the oceans. In addition it provides a picture of the Southern Ocean prior to the catastrophic decline of whale populations, and a major documentation of mid-water and benthic environments in the NE Atlantic. The second part, consisting of both benthic and pelagic samples taken off the European continental shelf since 1975, is housed here at NOC.


The collections continues to produce new findings and are providing important base-line data on the deep-sea environment. The material is used in house (at NOCS and NHM), by other UK institutes and also internationally. International users of the Discovery Collections include other European institutes in Germany, France and Denmark, and institutes in other countries such as the Smithsonian Institution in the USA and the University of Hong Kong.

The Discovery Collections are still expanding, with sampling programs in the NE Atlantic adding to the collection every year together with recent major collections from the Arabian Sea and around the Crozet Iles. As we continue to explore new oceanic areas this will ensure that this historic and internationally important collection continues to provide an invaluable resource to marine biology.

The Discovery Collections at NOCS contain both specimen material and bulk ecological samples and so have continuing value for further taxonomic, biological and ecological research. If you would like to know more about the Collections or to make use of this resource please do contact the Collections Manager

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