In the period following publication of the 10th edition of Linnaeus' Systema Naturae (1758), shipborne scientific expeditions quickly became the major means of increasing European knowledge and holdings of non-European plants and animals.

Indeed, the past importance of shipborne scientific expeditions cannot be described today without reference to space travel, their contemporary analogues in terms of the technology used, and prestige accruing to the scientists involved.

From the mid-18th to the late 19th century, the navies of major European countries thus always had at least one, or several ships devoted to surveying Oceania, and the coast of the Americas, Africa and Asia, and bringing back to European museums suitably preserved specimens¾ the more the better¾ of the strange organisms they encountered.

Captains and naturalists

The task was usually shared between the ships’ captains¾ trained in navigation, and hence good at surveying¾ and trained ‘naturalists’, often doubling as ship surgeons, both ably supported by junior officers and crew.

The most famous of these expeditions is the voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle (1831 - 1836), with the irascible Fitzroy as captain and Charles Darwin as (de facto) naturalist (Jenyns, 1842; see also Box 9). Other such expeditions are those documented in Lesson (1830-31; France), Kner (1865-67; Austria), Peters (1877; Germany), or Vinciguerra (1898; Italy), to provide examples representing the effort of some European powers other than Britain.

With time, these expeditions grew in sophistication, and one of the later ones, that of the Challenger (1872 -1876) covered in such depth so many areas of marine sciences that it is often viewed as having marked the beginning of the modern science of oceanography (Bayer 1969).

The International Indian Ocean Expedition

Shipborne scientific expeditions continued well into the 20th century, especially from the USA (see e.g., Thompson 1916), but with the establishment of modern research institutions in Europe’s former colonies, distant, single-ship expeditions were gradually replaced by more local undertakings or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, by complex affairs involving the coordinated activities of dozens of ships from different countries, as e.g., the International Indian Ocean Expedition (1959 - 1965; Zeitschel 1973). In the 1960s, finally, systematic trawl surveys became, and have since remained, major sources of new knowledge on fish biodiversity (Pauly 1996).

The early expeditions, to which some predominantly land-based adventures may be added, such e.g., as the Lewis & Clark Expedition (Mooring 1996) were crucial to the growth of ichthyology and of ichthyological collections. Indeed, we surmise that the majority of the approximately ten million of fish samples held in museums, throughout the world, stem from expeditions of one sort or the other.

Box 9. Darwin in FishBase.

A serious database on fish, or on any other group of organisms for that matter, cannot get around Charles Darwin, who provided the intellectual basis for much of what we do as biologists.

Darwin worked on many groups—corals, barnacles, orchids, earthworms—but did not devote any of his many books or articles exclusively to fishes. On the other hand, he edited the book describing the fish he collected during the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle (Jenyns 1842), and used fishes to illustrate many of his new concepts, e.g., that of sexual selection, illustrated in Darwin (1877) by many cases of sexually dimorphic fishes.

Pending an exhaustive treatment of this rich material (Pauly, in prep.) and the incorporation of the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle into the EXPEDITIONS table of FishBase, users can see some of ‘Darwin's Fishes’ through the 'View Picture' menu, by calling for the 45 species drawn by Waterhouse, B. Hawkins and Ford, G.


Darwin, C. 1877. The descent man: selection in relation to sex. 2nd ed. John Murray, London.

Jenyns, L. 1842. Fish, In C. Darwin (ed.) The zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, under the command of Captain Fitzroy, R.N., during the years 1832-1836. Smith, Elder and Co., London.

Pauly, D. Darwin’s fishes: an encyclopedia of ichthyology, ecology and evolution. (in prep.).

Daniel Pauly


As these fish samples form the core of the occurrence records in FishBase, we assume it will be useful to link these records to the expeditions that generated them. Not only does this allow for a partial reconstruction of these expeditions, but also allows, by providing a ‘cut’ through thousands of occurrence records, for the emergence of additional criteria with which to ‘clean up’, complete and then make available such records in ordered fashion.

FishBase 2000 implements these ideas through the EXPEDITIONS table described below, and a Winmap routine which displays the stations covered during an expedition, so far they are represented by FishBase occurrence records. Also, a routine is provided which summarizes and presents the key information gathered during an expedition or survey.

The EXPEDITIONS main table consists of the following fields:

  • Name of expedition: the (short) name by which the expedition is currently known, irrespective of its (usually long) official name;

  • Names of the Captain, and of the Chief scientist, so far identified;

  • Name of the vessel used by the expedition and its Length (in m), referring to the main vessel in case of an expedition that may have used auxillary crafts (as was the case with the H.M.S. Beagle);

  • the Location (Latitude, Longitude and Country) of the points of departure and arrival of an expedition (or of its first and last stations);

  • Main narrative, the reference number of a publication providing a narrative of the expedition as a whole;

  • Main ref. on fishes, the reference number of the publication with most of the ichthyological results from that expedition;

  • a choice field FishBase coverage of Expedition indicating the depth of coverage in FishBase of the survey in question, with choices (1) complete (or nearly so); (2) incomplete; and (3) fragmentary [note that in any of these cases, ‘coverage’ refers only to the occurrence records of fishes, not of other organisms, nor of abiotic data];

  • a Remarks field for items not covered by the above fields, e.g., to indicate that a given expedition may have not been exclusively ship-based, as in the case of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.

Create a map of an expedition

Using the items in this table, and those entries in the OCCURRENCES table that have been assigned to a given expedition, FishBase allows at least its partial reconstruction in form of a map which displays sampling sites or stations (accessible from the EXPEDITIONS table by clicking on the Map button), and an ‘Expedition report’ consisting of:

  • the contents of the EXPEDITIONS table;

  • a list of all the fish species collected, by station;

  • a chronological list of all stations, with their position, depth, and other pertinent information.

Access to information regarding the expedition, countries covered, lists of species and stations is through their respective buttons.

How to get there

The EXPEDITIONS table can be accessed by clicking on the Reports button in the Main Menu, the Miscellaneous button in the PREDEFINED REPORTS window, and the Expeditions button in the Miscellaneous Menu.

Only five expeditions (or surveys) are listed as such in FishBase as of November 2000 though the occurrence records herein stem from a far larger number of expeditions.

We anticipate that the assignment of an increasing fraction of the occurrence records in FishBase to the expeditions that generated them will not only contribute to increasing the accuracy of these records, but also to helping us document many of these expeditions and thereby pay tribute to the astounding, and often heroic work done by their scientists, officers and crew.

We are anxious to collaborate on this with as many colleagues as possible with an interest in the history of ichthyology, and particularly in the reconstruction of major undertakings such as the Challenger Expedition. Please do contact us if you are interested.


As of November 2000, the EXPEDITIONS table was not yet accessible on the Internet. Once we cover a few more expeditions, we will make the related information available from the ‘Search FishBase’ page, ‘Information by Topic’ section, Expeditions radio button. This will produce a list of expeditions covered so far. A summary page per expedition will contain the fields described in this chapter.


Bayer, F.M. 1969. A review of research and exploration in the Caribbean Sea and adjacent waters. FAO Fish. Rep. 71(1):41-93.

Jenyns, L. 1842. Fish, In C. Darwin (ed.) The zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, under the command of Captain Fitzroy, R.N., during the years 1832-1836. Smith, Elder & Co., London.

Kner, R. 1865-67. Fische. Reise der österreichischen Fregatte "Novara" um die Erde in den Jahren 1857-59, unter den Befehlen des Commodore B. von Wüllerstorf-Urbain. Wien. Zool. Theil. Fische Novara Exped., v. 1 (pt 1), p. 1-109.

Lesson, R.P. 1830-1831. Poissons, p. 66-238. In L.I. Duperrey. Voyage autour du monde, ..., sur la corvette de Sa Majesté La Coquille, pendant les années 1822, 1823, 1824 et 1825..., Zoologie. Voyage Coquille, Zool. v. 2 (pt 1).

Linnaeus, C. 1758. Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae secundum Classes, Ordinus, Genera, Species cum Characteribus, Differentiis Synonymis, Locis. 10th ed., Vol. 1. Holmiae Salvii. 824 p.

Mooring, J.R. 1996. Fish discoveries by the Lewis and Clark and Red River Expeditions. Fisheries 21(7):6-12.

Pauly, D. 1996. Biodiversity and the retrospective analysis of demersal trawl surveys: a programmatic approach, p. 1-6. In D. Pauly and P. Martosubroto (eds.) Baseline studies of biodiversity: the fish resources of Western Indonesia. ICLARM Stud. Rev. 23.

Peters, W.(C.H.). 1877. Übersicht der während der von 1874 bis 1876 unter dem Commando des Hrn. Capitän z. S. Freiherrn von Schleinitz ausgeführten Reise S. M. S. Gazelle gesammelten und von der Kaiserlichen Admiralität der Königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften übersandten Fische. Monatsb. Akad. Wiss. Berlin, 1876:831-854.

Thompson, W.F. 1916. Fishes collected by the United States Bureau of Fisheries steamer ‘Albatross’ during 1888, between Montevideo, Uruguay, and Tome, Chile, on the voyage through the Straits of Magellan. Proc. U.S. Natl. Mus. 50(2133):401-476.

Vinciguerra, D. 1898. I pesci dell'ultima spedizione del Cap. Bottego. Ann. Mus. Civ. Stor. Nat. Genova (Ser. 2a), v. 19, p. 240-261.

Zeitschel, B., Editor. 1973. The biology of the Indian Ocean. Ecological Studies 3. Springer-Verlag, Berlin. 549 p.

Daniel Pauly, Rodolfo B. Reyes, Jr. and Rainer Froese