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Explore Our Collections, Research, and Publications

The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum has engaged in ethnological and biological studies in Hawai‘i and the Pacific Islands for over 100 years. Bishop Museum’s collections of artifacts and biological specimens, library of published and unpublished documents, biodiversity databases, and staff expertise make it an unparalleled source of knowledge on the Pacific Basin. We invite you to explore our collections, and make discoveries of your own.

Collections

Bishop Museum’s Anthropology Department has studied the cultural heritage of Hawai‘i and its ancestral cultures throughout the Pacific for over a century. Today, the Anthropology Department houses the world’s largest collection of Hawaiian and Pacific artifacts from archaeological contexts. The Archaeology Collections reflect Bishop Museum’s central role as one of the most prominent centers of research in the field of Hawaiian and Pacific archaeology. Many of the sites excavated by Bishop Museum archaeologists are fundamental to our understanding of the cultural past of Oceania, including the first firmly-rooted cultural chronologies for the Hawaiian archipelago and wider Pacific region.

Bishop Museum’s Botany department holds the largest and most comprehensive collection of Hawaiian and tropical Pacific Island vascular plants, bryophytes, algae, fungi, and lichen specimens including over 225,000 specimens from Hawai‘i and 210,000 from Pacific Oceania. Our collections feature plants collected on the 2nd and 3rd voyages of Captain James Cook to the Pacific and over 12,000 type specimens. The collection is the most significant resource for research on the native, naturalized and cultivated Hawaiian flora and provides essential reference material for identifying newly introduced species.

Bishop Museum’s Entomology Collections have a long and distinguished record. Its collections serve as the principal US-based entomological resource for documentation of biological diversity and ecosystem studies in the Pacific and Asian regions and are a major national and international systematic resource. The uniqueness and breadth of the collections and their central Pacific location fosters wide international recognition and use, including use as a type and voucher repository.

Established in 1889 as the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum of Polynesian Ethnology and Natural History, the Museum actively engaged in the preservation and stewardship of significant cultural treasures from its inception. Today, the Museum’s collection of cultural treasures serves as a unique resource to better understand the history of Hawai‘i and the Pacific, to address the opportunities and the challenges that arise for the communities we serve, and to continue to inspire practitioners, artists, scholars, and the many guests that come through our doors every day.

Bishop Museum’s Natural Science Department includes a significant Ichthyology collection, begun in 1889 with a small sampling of fishes from off the west coast of North America by the US Fish Commission vessel Albatross. From that modest beginning, the current collection contains over 40,000 cataloged lots (more than 102,000 specimens) obtained from expeditions throughout the twentieth century through today. Collection holdings are from all of the major island groups and tropical regions of the Indo-Pacific. Although the primary emphasis is coral reef species, deep benthic and epipelagic fishes of the central Pacific and the freshwater native fishes of the Hawaiian Islands are also represented.

The Invertebrate Zoology Collection at Bishop Museum contains over 35,000 cataloged lots with over 1,000 type specimens. It is the only collection in the world devoted solely to marine invertebrates of the Pacific islands, with its primary focus being the Hawaiian Archipelago. It primarily houses marine animals that span multiple animal groups, including Porifera (sponges), Cnidaria (corals, jellies), Crustacea (crabs, lobsters), and Echinodermata (sea stars, urchins). The collection represents more than 100 years of scientific activity in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific.

When Bishop Museum opened to the public in June 1891, its library consisted of but a few shelves of books in what is today the Picture Gallery. From its beginnings in the personal collections of Charles Reed Bishop and Ke Ali‘i Bernice Pauahi Bishop, along with those of other members of the Hawaiian royal families, the Museum’s Library & Archives has grown to become a source and center for Hawaiian and Pacific Island materials.

The Bishop Museum has the most comprehensive collection of Pacific island land snails in the world. The approximately 25,000 islands of the Pacific Ocean harbor more than 6,000 land snail species, most of which are only found on a single island or archipelago. Unfortunately, molluscs, particularly Pacific island land snails, have the highest recorded extinction rate of any major taxonomic group, making the Museum’s collection all the more important.

The Pacific Center for Molecular Biodiversity (PCMB) is the primary cryopreservation facility for Pacific-wide biodiversity. The PCMB collection includes more than 40,000 tissue and genetic samples from marine, terrestrial, and freshwater plants and animals throughout the tropical Pacific, many of which represent threatened, endangered, or extinct species. The center promotes and facilitates biodiversity research and conservation using modern genomic approaches to expand the knowledge and understanding of the natural and cultural history of Hawai‘i and the Pacific region broadly. The laboratory is an integral component of the Museum’s knowledge core and aims to enhance scientific and public understanding of biodiversity research, and foster stewardship and conservation of Hawaiian biological and cultural heritage.

The Vertebrate Zoology Collections at Bishop Museum include assemblages of mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles, along with fossils from Hawaiʻi and the Pacific Basin, with some material from other regions. The staff of these collections document non-fish vertebrates of the region through the collection and preservation of specimens, so they will be available to scientists, students, artists, and all interested persons through loans and supervised use at the Museum.

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