Western University marine biology students virtually discover basking sharks

Today, a group of marine biology students at Western University dived into the ocean and virtually discovered ocean ecosystems.

“What you’re about to go through is mimicked from real life,” said assistant professor of marine ecology Paul Mensink as he prepared his class to swim with one of the world’s most vulnerable species – the second largest planet shark – the basking.

“We try to immerse students and engage them in the content, using this kind of immersive technology to really make them feel like they’re there,” Mensink said.

The class is the first to use the innovative new augmented reality app called MarineXR that virtually takes them to an ocean course, where they swim alongside the basking shark.

“It’s very difficult for me to put the student on the coast because we’re in London, so that’s a technique we can use to take them to the coast, using immersive technology,” adds Mensink.

Students use their cell phones 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, then dive into the ocean to come face-to-face 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 sitting and listening to someone talk about it… We don’t have the opportunity to go ocean diving, go tag these sharks on the surface of the ocean, it’s a great way to see what people are doing to help conserve these species,” said Nicole Bija, a fourth-year biodiversity and conservation student at Western.

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

Mensink and his team are the first Canadian researchers to receive a grant from the 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 company EXAR Studios, to develop and test the app.

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