The Valdivia Expedition, Carl Chun's diving into the deep sea

Wissenschaftliche Ergebnisse der Deutschen Tiefsee-Expedition auf dem Dampfer “Valdivia” 1898–1899
Carl Chun
Leipzig, Germany
51° 20′ 25″ N, 12° 22′ 29″ E

Carl Chun was a German zoologist who led the Valdivia Expedition. The purpose of this scientific expedition was to deepen the discoveries previously made by the Challenger Expedition. The marine biologist was an expert in octopus and squid and took advantage of the expedition to perfect his knowledge of the great depths.


Carl Chun dedicated his entire life to the organisation of the Valdivia Expedition. Towards the end of the 19th century, he was already a teacher recognized by his peers, especially through his study of jellyfish. He also participated in a German expedition to study plankton. He was very inspired by the Challenger Expedition (1872-1876), which had established modern oceanography. That is why in 1897 he presented his project of international research of the ocean floor. In particular, he wished to verify many theories of the mid 19th century which stated that there was no life below 300 fathoms depth (approximately 550m). As a confirmed malacologist (the study of molluscs), he was convinced that these organisms could live below this limit, in abyssal zones. Moreover, lots of great depths zone (including the Mariannes pit) had been discovered during the Challenger Expedition.

The Valdivia Expedition

The expedition project was quickly accepted and the German government, supported by the Kaiser, approved and financed it. In 1898, the expedition was officially launched with the aim of exploring the zoology of the seabed. The postal freighter Valdivia was converted into an oceanographic exploration vessel in record time and the expedition left Hamburg on July 31 of the same year. The boat descended the Alantic, skirted Africa, and reached the Antarctic Enderby Land. It stayed about 1 month in the southern lands and rediscovered Bouvet Island. The expedition then went up through the Indian Ocean to Sri Lanka, passed through the Red Sea and the Mediterranean and arrived in Hamburg less than a year later on May 1, 1899.

At the end of the voyage, a long work of editing and publication of the results is launched by the biologists of the expedition. This mission was still led by Carl Chun, who himself wrote the part on cephalopods and plankton. 70 collaborators compiled, wrote and illustrated the observations. The result is a 24-volume work, Wissenschaftliche Ergebnisse der Deutschen Tiefsee-Expedition auf dem Dampfer “Valdivia” 1898-1899, which was published over a period of 40 years, long after Chun’s death (in 1914). The result of the expedition is a scientific success, many species were recorded and observed lower than the previously studied depths. In this sense, the 15th volume illustrated by Friedrich Wilhelm Winteris, is particularly remarkable, it explains how deep-sea fish move and live using their senses and not their vision. The part written by Carl Chun, Die Cephalopoden, is also famous for the description of a new octopus Vampyroteuthis Infernalis. Read more about the vampire squid from hell here. The illustrations below are taken from this work.

Valdivia Exploration Map
Valdivia Exploration Route Map
Carl Chun Vampire Squid
The Vampire Squid
Valdivia Exploration Cephalopod Atlas Carl Chun
Valdivia Exploration Cephalopod Atlas Carl Chun

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