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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution releases rare video footage from the first submersible dives to RMS Titanic

Titanic Portholes (WHOI Archives, ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

February 15, 2023

In the submersible Alvin, the mission was the first time humans set eyes on the wreck since it sank nearly 75 years earlier

Release of footage coincides with the 25th anniversary and re-release of the blockbuster film "Titanic"

Woods Hole, Mass.  It has been almost 38 years since the remains of the RMS Titanic were first discovered lying on the ocean floor. On September 1, 1985, a team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) led by Dr. Robert Ballard in partnership with Institut français de recherche pour l’exploitation de la mer (IFREMER) discovered the final resting place of the ship. In July 1986, nine months after the discovery, a team from WHOI returned to the wreck site, this time using three-person research submersible Alvin and the newly developed remotely operated vehicle Jason Jr. The trip marked the first time that humans laid eyes on the vessel since its ill-fated voyage in 1912.

On February 10, 2023, a remastered version of the multi-Academy Award®-winning movie “Titanic” was released in celebration of film’s 25th anniversary. Timed to coincide with this occasion, WHOI is debuting 80 minutes of rare video footage from the 1986 expedition to explore the famous wreck. The newly released video highlights the remarkable achievement by the team to bring iconic images of the ship back to the surface.

“More than a century after the loss of Titanic, the human stories embodied in the great ship continue to resonate,” said explorer, filmmaker, and ocean advocate James Cameron. “Like many, I was transfixed when Alvin and Jason Jr. ventured down to and inside the wreck. By releasing this footage, WHOI is helping tell an important part of a story that spans generations and circles the globe.”

Efforts to locate and salvage the Titanic began almost immediately after it sank, but technical limitations as well as the vast expanse of the search area in the North Atlantic made it impossible to locate the wreck. By 1985, WHOI had developed new imaging technology, including Argo, a camera sled that was towed from the research vessel Knorr and captured the first photographs the ship beneath more than 12,400 feet of water. The WHOI-led 1986 expedition returned to explore the wreck with the human-occupied submersible Alvin, and a remotely operated vehicle that was able to penetrate the wreck and return with iconic images of the ship’s interior. WHOI’s Dr. Robert Ballard led both the 1985 discovery and 1986 return to the wreck site and was one of the passengers aboard Alvin when it dove on the wreckage.

For WHOI and for the entire ocean research community, Titanic’s discovery proved the capabilities of new underwater imaging and navigation systems and helped spur significant advantages in the development of deep-sea exploration technology.

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Brief description:

  • In 1986, 11 dives were made to Titanic’s final resting place almost 12,500 feet below the surface of the ocean.
  • The WHOI-led expedition returned to explore the wreck with Human occupied vehicle (HOV) Alvin and a prototype of the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Jason Jr. which was able to penetrate the wreck and return with images of the ship’s interior.
  • WHOI’s Dr. Robert Ballard led the 1986 return to the wreck and was one of the passengers aboard Alvin when it dove on the wreckage. (Ballard was also a part of the 1985 discovery)


Video highlights include:

  • Captured in July 1986 from cameras on HOV Alvin and ROV Jason Jr, most of this footage  has never been released for public viewing.
  • Footage begins with Alvin approaching Titanic exploring the bow and parking on its deck.
  • Split screen views syncing camera feeds from Alvin and Jason Jr. as the smaller vehicle leaves Alvin to explore the wreck.
  • Interior shots of Titanic from Jason Jr’s


Footage timecodes:

  • [00:01 – 00:12] The footage opens on the bow section of the ship as HOV Alvin scans for a landing place with images taken by HOV Alvin. 
  • [00:12 – 00:19] Footage of wreckage as taken by Jason Jr., lights from HOV Alvin in the background (for reference, Jason Jr. is blue)
  • [00:19 – 00:24] HOV Alvin sitting on deck of the Titanic wreck footage shot from Jason Jr.
  • [00:24 – 00:28] Jason Jr.
  • [00:28 – 00:33] the exterior of HOV Alvin as taken from Jason Jr, and footage from inside Alvin showing Robert Ballard.
  • [00:33 – 00:54] Jason Jr. peering into a chief officer’s cabin, and a promenade window.
  • [00:54 – 01:04] footage from HOV Alvin maneuvering on the ocean bottom showing debris.
  • (01:04 – 01:36) exterior of the ship, showing “rusticles” that have formed since the ship came to rest on the seafloor.
  • (01:36 – 02:15) Capstans on the ship’s forward deck used to haul a chain or line
  • [02:15 – 02:43] ship railings
  • (02:43 – 02:53) Telemotor used to transmit steering and engine controls to the engine room
  • (02:53 – 04:02) interior shots from ROV Jason Jr.




About Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate an understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. WHOI’s pioneering discoveries stem from an ideal combination of science and engineering—one that has made it one of the most trusted and technically advanced leaders in basic and applied ocean research and exploration anywhere. WHOI is known for its multidisciplinary approach, superior ship operations, and unparalleled deep-sea robotics capabilities. We play a leading role in ocean observation and operate the most extensive suite of data-gathering platforms in the world. Top scientists, engineers, and students collaborate on more than 800 concurrent projects worldwide—both above and below the waves—pushing the boundaries of knowledge and possibility. For more information, please visit