Launching ROV Tiburon on board the R/V Western Flyer.

After 12 years of ocean observation and data collection, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute retired the Tiburon ROV in 2008.  

The remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Tiburon is a unique ROV, designed and built by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute specifically for scientific exploration of the deep sea. Since its first dive in 1997 the Tiburon has made over 400 dives, and has played an essential role in helping scientists make several important biological, geological and oceanographic discoveries.

A detailed image of the sensors and sampling tools on the ROV Tiburon.

A detailed image of the sensors and sampling tools on the ROV Tiburon. Click image for larger view.

With a maximum operating depth of 4,000 meters, the Tiburon is capable of diving in all areas of the Monterey Submarine Canyon, and can access numerous sites of scientific interest worldwide. Such sites include undersea volcanoes in the mid-Pacific, deep-sea hydrothermal vents along the East Pacific Rise, the Juan de Fuca Ridge, and the Guaymas Basin in the Sea of Cortez.

The Tiburon is controlled from a special control room on board its tender vessel, the R/V Western Flyer. It receives power and control signals from the surface via a long cable or “tether,” which contains both electrical wires and fiber-optic strands. Data from sensors and video signals from the ROV’s cameras travel back up the tether to the control room, where they are displayed on a series of monitors.

Because the Tiburon relies upon electrical thrusters and manipulators, rather than hydraulic systems, it is able to move quietly through the water, causing less disturbance to the animals being observed. This “stealth” ability is enhanced by the use of a “variable buoyancy system,” which allows the vehicle to float motionless in the water without the constant use of the thrusters.

The lower half of the Tiburon is a modular toolsled, which can be changed out quickly with other toolsleds to carry out specific missions. For example, the benthic (or bottom) toolsled which has an extra manipulator arm and extensive sample-carrying space for geological and biological samples. Other toolsleds include a “midwater” toolsled for exploring the biology of open ocean creatures, and a rock coring toolsled which has been used to take oriented rock cores from the sea floor. The combination of flexibility, speed and safety offered by the Tiburon makes it an extraordinarily useful tool for deep-sea exploration.

The Web team gratefully acknowledges this contribution by Randy Kochevar from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.