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Coming 'face-to-jaw' with the worlds second largest shark, virtually

A group of students studying marine biology at Western University took a deep-dive into the ocean today – learning about ocean ecosystems virtually.

“What you are going to go through, is mimicked off of real life,” said Marine Ecology Assistant Professor Paul Mensink as he prepared his class to swim with one of the world’s most vulnerable species – the planets second largest shark – the basking.

“We are trying to immerse the students and engage them in the content, by using this type of immersive technology to really give them the feel that they’re there,” said Mensink.

The class is the first to use the new innovative augmented-reality app called MarineXR that brings them virtually into an oceans cape, where they swim beside the basking shark.

“It’s very difficult for me to put the student out on the coast because we’re in London, so this is one technique we can use to actually take them to the coast, through immersive technology,” adds Mensink.

The students use their cellphones to board an augmented-reality boat and navigate the sea of shark fins. When they tap their phones on the fins, they can attach satellite-tracking tags to the sharks and then dive into the ocean to come face-to-jaw with the giant creature.VR technology used by Western University students that allows them to dive with basking sharks. (Source: MarineXR)

“I can tell you it was definitely a lot more interesting than us sitting and listening to someone talk about it…We don’t have the opportunity to go and dive into the ocean, to go tag these sharks on the surface of the ocean, it’s a nice way to actually see what people are doing to help conserve these species,” said Nicole Bija, fourth-year biodiversity and conservation student at Western.

According to Mensink, the app is also part of a research project which investigates whether students learn better with immersive technology or by watching a video or hearing a lecture.A basking shark during a marine biology lecture at Western University featuring VR technology. (Source: MarineXR)

Mensink and his team are the first Canadian researchers to be awarded a grant from Unity Charitable Fund, a fund of the Tides Foundation, in the amount of US$50,000 (C$62,000).

The grant supports the development of the EnviroXR tool, with London-based creative technology firm EXAR Studios, in developing and testing the app. Top Stories

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