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Ocean Currents

12 Incredible Historical Illustrations of Ocean Animals

These scientific illustrations of octopuses, fish and more, are hundreds of years old

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From "Natural, general and particular history of the living acetabuiferous cephalopods, and fossils", 1835-1848 © Courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library

Humans have tried to understand the mysteries of our ocean since the beginning of time. Ever since early humans turned to the sea for food, people across the ages have discovered and documented ocean life in stories, song and art. The first known academic descriptions of marine life were those of Aristotle, who identified and studied numerous fish, echinoderms and crustaceans. Since then, countless marine scientists and enthusiasts have documented marine life around the world, with new discoveries happening all the time.

Luckily, we can view thousands of historical illustrations of marine life thanks to the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL). The BHL is the largest open-access digital library for biodiversity archives. They work with libraries around the world to offer millions of books dating back to the 15th century for free. The library is not only an incredible source of data for scientists—it brings scientific art into the homes of people around the world.

We dug through the BHL archives to bring you some of our favorite ocean illustrations from the 18th and 19th centuries. You can explore the BHL too, by visiting their website and Flickr page.

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From "Natural, general and particular history of the living acetabuiferous cephalopods, and fossils", 1835-1848 © Courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library
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From "The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands", 1771 © Courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library
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From "Ichthyology; or, Natural History of Fish", 1796 © Courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library
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From "Ichthyology, or, Natural, General and Particular History of Fish", 1785-1797 © Courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library
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From "Natural, general and particular history of the living acetabuiferous cephalopods, and fossils", 1835-1848 © Courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library
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From "The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands", 1771 © Courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library
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From "Living Lights", 1887 © Courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library
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From "Actinologia Britannica", 1860 © Courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library
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© Courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library
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From "Non-profitable Natural History of the Animal Kingdom", 1780-1789 © Courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library
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From "An Attempt at a Natural History of Crabs", 1782-1804 © Courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library

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