In the summer of 1869 H.M.S. Lightning undertook a cruise to investigate the deep waters to the west and north of the British Isles. Thus deep-water oceanography was launched. Since that time biological exploration of the world's oceans has gone through three phases (Wrist, 1964): the age of exploration, where nations sent out vessels to travel the world; the era of institutes, where research became focused on the activities of large oceanographic institutes and the research vessels they ran; and, currently, the age of research programs, driven by groups of researchers and funded from international as well as national sources. In parallel with deep-water oceanography, there has been extensive research on coastal waters and on fisheries. When taken as a whole, the potential available data represent an enormous investment and significant resource. There are considerable advantages in bringing such data together for programs such as the Census of Marine Life and the Ocean Biogeographic Information System. In this article we examine where such datasets are to be found, the relative advantages of using existing data, their limitations and how such information could be made available.