You can now swim with sperm whales and play with polar bears all in San Francisco, thanks to virtual reality.
Aquarium on the Bay at PIER 39 in San Francisco just launched three new VR and AR exhibits, allowing visitors up close interaction with whales and polar bears without disturbing the animals.
The three exhibitions include an interactive sculptural series of 11 different researchers who have changed our understanding of ocean life, a new virtual reality film theatre, and two AR attractions that will allow visitors to interact with whales, polar bears, and other arctic creatures.
These AR experiences, opening today, will allow visitors to interact with two different shows: The Ocean Adventure and The Arctic Explorer. The two interactive films will be projected onto a 20ft screen above guests, for them to feel like they can walk with and touch polar bears, penguins, whales, and dolphins.
Aside from the AR projections, the aquarium also has a Dive with Whales VR experience. Set in a VR theater environment, custom hardware and software allows synchronous play on headsets allowing viewers to enjoy a shared experience. The first VR film experience at Aquarium of the Bay was created by veteran filmmaker, Sandy Smolan and best-selling author James Nestor, who in 2016 shot the award winning, The Click Effect about the secret language of whales and dolphins. Click Effect takes you on a free-dive down to 100 feet in the depths of the ocean to swim with dolphins, pilot whales, and giant sperm whales.
Among backlash from animal rights activists about the treatment of animals in amusement parks like SeaWorld, VR and AR experiences could become the future.
SeaWorld launched a new Kraken rollercoaster in June that takes visitors through an intense underwater adventure.
Ironically, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has also utilized VR as a form of protest against SeaWorld. Hosting an experience outside of the amusement parks for visitors to experience whale’s confinement.
Although Aquarium of the Bay is quite different from SeaWorld because of their dedication to research and conservation, the utilization of VR and AR will still allow for a new type of experience with sea life. By allowing guests to virtually interact with worlds unreachable to most humans, VR and AR will protect animal’s safety and will continue to expand people’s knowledge.
For more information about Aquarium at the Bay, you can visit their website.