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A Virtual Reality Dive with the Ocean's Largest Predatory Mammals

A new virtual reality film by VRSE.works puts you side-by-side with sperm whales and dolphins.

Weighing in at an average of 32,000 pounds and 50 feet in length, the sperm whale is the largest living predator in the world. The guys who regularly dive into the ocean and see these babies up close made a virtual reality documentary called The Click Effect about these killers of the deep, and it is simultaneously artful, beautiful, informative, and a little bit frightening. The Click Effect debuted at Tribeca Film Festival's Virtual Arcade, and is now available to anyone with a smartphone through the VRSE app.

Vrse.works, purveyors of fine virtual reality products like Catatonic, Clouds Over Sidra, and The Displaced, worked with Annapurna Pictures and DEEP author James Nestor to capture beauty of underwater reasearch and explain how sperm whales see, feel, and hunt using echolocation—and may constitute intelligent life. The video follows Fabrice Schnöller, founder of an organization called DAREWIN as he works to prove whales and dolphins are sentient, and free-diving fine art photographer Fred Buyle, who often works with researchers to create visuals for their work. Directed by Sundance alum Sandy Smolan, The Click Effect shows you people interacting with these creatures in their natural habitat, visualizes how sonar works, explains the brain function required to use it, and argues that this, among other evidence of higher communication, is proof that the only thing separating human beings from whales and dolphins is a communication barrier.

"Fabrice and Fred believe that these animals, since they are already viewing the world through clicks and echoes, are probably able to send those pictures and sonograms to other dolphins or whales," Nestor says in the film. "Tens of millions of dollars are spent looking for intelligent life in the universe. But there's already intelligent life in the universe. And it's right here."

Aside from the fascinating message, The Click Effect is worthwhile simply for the feeling of floating in the ocean sans SCUBA gear. Vistas like an overgrown shipwreck, a pod of sperm whales cuddling, and vibrant coral outcroppings are one of the truest examples of VR's transportative effect I've felt yet. Watching it, I found myself breathing in the strong, regular rhythm ingrained in me by my own SCUBA instructor. Whether you're a diver looking for a small fix, an animal activist looking for your next cause, or a landlubber who needs to take the edge off of office life, The Click Effect is proof that virtual reality and the ocean go together like peanut butter and sriracha.

Watch The Click Effect on the VRSE app or The New York Times' VR app. See more from Vrse.works here, learn about Fabrice Schnöller and Fred Buyle's research here, and buy James Nestor's books here.

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