Research and Recreation:  HMS Challenger in Hawaii


Focus:  History of Ocean Exploration


Grade Level:  7-12


Focus Question:  What types of research were conducted by the HMS Challenger crew in Hawaii and how might that research have shaped the scientific agenda of future explorers?


Learning Objectives


Students will become familiar with the voyage of HMS Challenger, the different types of research conducted, and some of the biological samples taken on the expedition.


Students will understand how our base of scientific knowledge is built, and how new or expanded information is used to refine research agendas. 


Students will compare and contrast the Challenger research in Hawaii with the research conducted on a modern oceanographic expedition.


Materials:  Copies of Student Pages, computers with Internet access, map of the Challenger route (available at


Audio/Visual Materials:  None


Teaching Time:   Three or four 45-minute class periods, with additional time for homework, or teachers may also choose to do only some of the activities, depending on time available


Seating Arrangement:  Individually or in small groups of 2-3


Maximum Number of Students:  None



HMS Challenger

Sandwich Islands




sounding (determining depth)













Background Information


The historic voyage of the British ship HMS (His Majesty's Ship) Challenger, conducted between 1872-1876, is considered to be the first expedition undertaken specifically to conduct oceanographic research.  At a time when knowledge began to be equated with power, the deep ocean was one of the great frontiers that man had yet to conquer. (Up until a few years before the expedition, people didn't believe that any life existed in the cold, dark, deep ocean.)


The 226-foot long Challenger was originally a military vessel, and had to be outfitted to support an extended oceanographic expedition.  Fifteen of her 17 guns were removed to make room for laboratory space, storage space, and the samples that would be collected.  Carried on board were 144 miles of rope for sounding (determining the depth of the ocean) and 12.5 miles of piano wire for lowering sampling gear.


HMS Challenger had the specific assignment from the British government “to investigate the physical and biological conditions of the great Ocean Basins.” Five scientists, one artist, 23 officers and 243 sailors comprised the Challenger’s all-male crew.  Their 3 ½-year around-the-globe voyage covered almost 69,000 nautical miles and gathered data on temperature, currents, water chemistry, marine organisms, and bottom deposits at 362 oceanographic stations.


The scientific results of the voyage were published in a 50-volume, 29,500-page report that took 23 years to compile.  More than 100 scientists, acknowledged world experts in each area, assisted in analyzing the samples resulting from the voyage.  Specialists in every branch of science studied the collections and data and assisted in producing the reports.  The findings were deemed “the greatest advance in the knowledge of our planet since the celebrated discoveries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.” Many of the detailed drawings of flora and fauna provide much of the basis of modern marine biology.


In the summer of 1875, after a six-week sail from Japan in the western Pacific Ocean, the Challenger visited a group of islands  known as the Sandwich Islands.  Prior to the Challenger expedition, explorer Captain Cook on his voyage in 1778 named the islands after his superior, the Earl of Sandwich. (A relative of this Earl was credited with inventing the sandwich as we know it today.) Today, these islands are known as the Hawaiian Islands.  Here the Challenger crew spent almost two weeks on land, with the scientists meeting the Hawaiians, learning about local customs, and writing detailed accounts of everything from volcanoes to birds.  The ship stopped at two oceanographic sampling stations off the Hawaiian coast to allow for measurements and trawling operations.


The Challenger's visit to Hawaii, through the scientists' narratives and the artist's illustrations, gave the rest of the world a glimpse into the oceanographic, biological, and social aspects of this unique group of Pacific islands.



Learning Procedures

(Activities for students are listed throughout the Learning Procedure, and are offered for teachers to use as time or computer availability permits.)


Day 1


1. Discuss the background of the Challenger voyage, emphasizing that this was the first global oceanographic expedition and that man's knowledge of the oceans at that time was limited.  Teachers may want to be somewhat familiar with the voyage of HMS Challenger, and could use the following as additional resources:


The Voyage of the Challenger, by Eric Linklater, Doubleday and Company, Inc., New York, 1972.  (Available from


The Voyage of the Challenger


Challenger Society for Marine Science


2.  As a reading assignment, have students read the Background pages in this lesson, and visit the websites listed above. Hold a discussion in class about the ways the Challenger crew gathered data (e.g. observation, drawings, trawl nets and dredges).


3.  As a homework assignment, ask students to define all of the keywords listed at the beginning of this lesson, and have them look up any additional words they don't understand.


Day 2:


1.  Hand out the Student Pages titled "Station 260," explaining only that it is an excerpt from the documents of the Challenger voyage.  Have them share their thoughts about it.  (What questions do they have?  Was it difficult to understand?  What else would they want to know about this information?  How do they think this information would be helpful in the study of oceanography?)


2.  Explain to students that this is data gathered at one of the Challenger's 362 stations around the world. Have a map of the Challenger route available ( and discuss the geography of the voyage.  Ask students to compare that route with the way explorers might travel today.


3.  Tell the class that Station 260 was near Hawaii and tell them the fun fact about Hawaii originally being called the Sandwich Islands.  Discuss the types of research conducted at Station 260 and how and why the findings could be of significance.  Keep reminding students that detailed research like this had not been done before.


4.  Hand out and have students read the Student Pages titled "Exploring Hawaii" and talk with them about how the Challenger expedition focused mainly on oceanography, but a good deal of time was spent documenting the ports that were visited. Ask students if they think it is unusual for an ocean-based expedition to explore and detail accounts of visits on shore.  Ask why they think the economics, politics, sociology, and land-based sciences of these places were important to the expedition.


5.  Have students pretend that they are part of the Challenger crew, and write a journal entry that describes their experience on the island of Hawaii (people, land, etc.).  They should include pictures or drawings as well.


Day 3:


1.  Referring again to the Student Pages titled "Station 260," have students choose one of the taxonomic Orders of surface organisms listed in the data (Radiolaria, Copepoda, etc.)  Have them search the Internet to find a picture of a representative organism and explain the characteristics of that Order.  Students should share their findings with the class. This activity allows students to become familiar with the wide variety of organisms that were sampled by the Challenger crew.


2.  Have students pretend they are scientists and formulate their own research plan for the next phase of the Challenger's Hawaii research.  In other words, if the data from Station 260 were all that they knew about oceanography in Hawaii, what additional or follow-up questions would they have? List their questions on the board and have students explain why they chose those particular questions.


3.  Either print and hand out, or have students visit and read through one of the websites listed below about modern expeditions in the Hawaiian Islands: (See Daily Journals section also)


Students should either create a chart, illustrations, or a short essay that discusses the similarities and differences between the Challenger expedition in Hawaii and one of these modern expeditions. They may want to compare scientific objectives of the missions, tools and technologies used, topics included in journals, and types of data obtained.  They could finish the assignment as homework.


Day 4:  Final Assessment


Have students pretend that they are modern ocean explorers and ask them to write a letter to one of the Challenger crew using specific examples to describe how far technology and ocean exploration have evolved and how this helps to shape our scientific agenda today.  Students should use the Internet for their research and use examples of how the advancement of science leads to more questions. (For example, we have submersibles that allow us to visit the deep ocean, which leads to new discoveries, which generates new scientific questions.)


Assessment Rubric

A rubric for assessing this activity can be found at the end of this document, before the Student Pages.


Related Lessons in the "New Challenger Series"

(Available at


"So What's Different?  Exploring the Ocean Then and Now"

"Life at Sea"

"The Art of Ocean Exploration"

The BRIDGE Connection


On the main site ( navigation bar, click on Ocean Science Topics, then Human Activities, Heritage, Maritime Heritage.


The "Me" Connection:  Ask students how they think they benefit personally from oceanographic research, and why is it important to keep exploring? 


Connections to Other Subjects:  History, Geography, Language Arts



Ocean Explorer Website

The Challenger Volumes Online


The College of Exploration's New Challenger Project

Narrative of The Cruise of H.M.S. Challenger With a General Account of The Scientific Results of The Expedition. T. H. Tizard, R.N.;  H. N. Moseley F.R.S.; J. Y. Buchanan M.A.; and John Murray, Ph.D.; Partly Illustrated By J. J. Wild. Parts First and Second, 1885. 


The Voyage of the Challenger, by Eric Linklater, Doubleday and Company, Inc., New York, 1972.  (Available from


Challenger Society for Marine Science


The Voyage of the Challenger


The Hawaiian Historical Society


By Wind, By Wave - An Introduction to Hawaii’s Natural History, David L. Eyre, Bess Press: Honolulu, 2000.


National Science Education Standards


Content Standard A:  Science As Inquiry

Content Standard F:  Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Content Standard G:  History and Nature of Science


NCSS (National Council for Social Studies Standards)


Thematic Strand, Standard #3 - People, Places and Environment

Thematic Strand, Standard #8 - Science, Technology and Society

Thematic Strand, Standard #9 - Global Connections


Hawaii Performance Standards


Social Studies, Grade 7: Standard #10 – Cultural Anthropology – Cultural systems.

Social Studies, Grade 7: Standard #16 – Geography – Human Systems

Science, Grade 7: Domain I, Standard #1 – Doing Scientific Inquiry

Science, Grade 7: Domain I, Standard #2 – Living the Values, Attitudes, and Commitments of the Inquiring Mind.

Science, Grade 7: Domain II, Standard #1 – Understanding Scientific Inquiry and the Character of Scientific Knowledge.


Science, Grade 8: Domain I, Standard #1 - Doing Scientific Inquiry

Science, Grade 8: Domain I, Standard #5 - Relating the Nature of Technology to Science.

Science, Grade 8: Domain II, Standard #1 - Understanding Scientific Inquiry and the Character of Scientific Knowledge.

Educational Technology, Grades 7-12: Standard # 4 – Technology as a tool for Communication

Educational Technology, Grades 7 -12: Standard # 5 – Technology as a tool for Research.




This lesson plan was produced by Melissa Ryan of the College of Exploration, Potomac Falls, VA.  Special thanks to Amy Albanese.

Student Pages

"Station 260"























Student Pages

"Exploring Hawaii"


The Challenger crew were away from home for more than 1200 days, but more than 500 days were spent on shore in many locations around the world, including Hawaii.  The voyage, in addition to providing extensive oceanographic data, was a holistic mission in the sense that it included land-based exploration, interaction with many different cultures, and direct exposure to local peoples and their lifestyles, beliefs, and traditions. The following paragraphs are excerpted from the Challenger volumes, and portray the wide range of issues that the scientists wrote about in great detail when they visited a port.


The Land:

"As we neared it, lofty peaks, brown and red, sun-scorched and wind-bleached, showing here and there traces of their fiery origin, were in view…All along the shore were the neat wood and grass houses and huts of the natives, and away in either direction was the city of Honolulu, hidden behind palms, bread-fruit, bananas, and other trees, with the public buildings and church spires just showing above all."

Government:   At the time of Challenger's visit, Hawaii was ruled by a King and several levels of high-ranking political officials, as well as "the Legislative Assembly consisting of forty-five members, thirty of whom are elected by the people and fifteen appointed by the king, who hold their seats for life. There are two qualifications necessary to enable a man to vote…he must be able to read and write, and have an income of 75 dollars a year."


Economics:  "The revenue of the Hawaiian kingdom is about 500,000 dollars a year, and is derived principally from taxation, from custom duties, and from the sale of government land."

The People: "Soon after anchoring, opportunities were afforded for a run on shore, and a great crowd was assembled on the landing to give us a hearty welcome.  Men and women of a rich brown colour, with long, wavy, black hair and large brown lustrous eyes, all seeming happy, talking, laughing and smiling; their greetings, 'Aloha!' assailed us wherever we went, floating on the breeze sweet as the sound of distant bells."


The FoodOne of the sights in Honolulu is the fish market, and there we were escorted one Saturday afternoon.  Although only a tumble-down sort of a place, with a number of rickety stalls, yet these were in many cases covered with numberless varieties of blue, red, and yellow fish, spotted and banded, and striped in the most striking manner.  Of shellfish also there was an abundance, crayfish, lobsters, crabs, and many strange orange- and rose-coloured medusae [jellyfish], and here and there little heaps of various qualities of sea-weed, of which the natives are particularly fond."

The Beach at Waikiki"A very thin grove of gaunt, rheumatic-looking coco-palms, their lean stems much bent and their crowns much dilapidated by the prevailing wind; under the cocos, on a plane of burnt-up grass diversified by marsh, wherein grows a tall reed-grass, is a scattering of cottages and low trees, a native church, a soft sandy beach, blue sea and surf….I cannot say I thought it a cheerful spot." 


Early Surfing Legends: "There is a true story of a native whose hut, while he was within, was swept out to sea by an earthquake-wave; he wrenched off a plank and came in surf-riding on the top of the returning wave, some fifty feet in height, and was thrown uninjured on the land.  What a glorious thing to do and survive!"