Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Are Virtual Belugas the Key to Ending Whale and Dolphin Captivity? - TakePart

photo credit Heino Kalis & Reuters

Virtual whales? This is a weird one...

Aquariums have been coming under fire recently as awareness grows that maybe keeping highly intelligent marine mammals in the equivalent of concrete puddles isn't the best idea humanity's ever had.

Now, I've mentioned I have mixed feelings about this - and I still do. As an adult today, yes, of course I understand that keeping marine mammals in tanks and forcing them to perform for us is wrong. And I will never go to a dolphin show again, and as much as I desperately want to hug a beluga whale and have for as long as I can remember, I know it's wrong to support the "swim-with-dolphin" programs, so I won't do that either. But I might just head out to northern Russia and find one to hug in its natural habitat. Anyway, I understand now that these programs are wrong. But as a kid, they made an enormous impression on me. I got to see dolphins and whales. I got to watch them, hear them, get splashed by them. I even got to talk to them...sort of. (One time at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut I went up to the edge of the tank and squeaked my sneakers in the puddles left over from a show. The dolphins went nuts! They all came over to me and were mimicking my sneaker-squeaks! We "chatted" in this way for a while - I'll never forget it.) As a kid I enjoyed it and it really drove my passion to become a marine biologist even further. But I didn't think of what the animals were feeling stuck in those tanks every day. I didn't know any better. So, yes, dolphins and whales in captivity influenced me as a child - I can't deny that. But so did Barbie, and we know today that both these ideas are unrealistic.

So, submitted for your approval as a solution:

"Steve DiPaola, a professor of interactive arts at Simon Fraser University who has worked on interactive games such as "The Sims," has developed an early prototype of a pod of computer-generated beluga whales that he says could be a forerunner of virtual aquarium displays."

Erm...okay. Creative, definitely. The article doesn't go into how this would work, so I checked out, a website that has attempted to execute the idea of virtual "swim-with-dolphin" experiences.

"Scientific research has shown that doing something virtually creates similar physiological, psychological, and spiritual responses as doing the actual thing."

Hmm, good point. Let's read on...

"The way it works is as follows:
•A person's harmonic signature is obtained via the Aspire Spectral Essence™ program, a supercomputer controlled process that uses a person's breath to establish their harmonic body of resonant frequencies (their personal harmonic signature).
•This signature is fed into a system that increases the frequencies into the range of dolphin echolocation, and then fed back to them via a VibraSound® Liquid Crystal Mattress that allows them to feel it in every cell of their body just like being in the water with the actual dolphin. (This biofeedback procedure is optional and not mandatory for the typical user).
•At the same time, the client is visualizing a pod of friendly dolphins via a 3D virtual reality screen, while listening to music created to enhance the experience via stereo headphones, along with pre-recorded dolphin whistles and echolocations obtained with a state of the art recording method while they are in the midst of doing therapy.
•The experience ends with an eyes closed experience that can only be compared to lucid dreaming using a sophisticated light and sound device (the Sensorium™) and a patented circuit called MusicVision™ that synchronizes flashing lights with the music."


I dunno about you, but this is what I think of...

No wonder it didn't catch on. Better luck this time 'round, VR guys.

DiPaola points out that a lot of what happens at aquariums is "boring," mainly for the dolphins swimming around in never-ending circles. He says a virtual show could be both more entertaining and more educational by giving viewers a better understanding of the animals in their natural habitat. We'll be able to experience dolphins and whales without the trauma and stress that comes with keeping them in captivity. I'm not sure many people will be for passing up the "real" thing in favour of a computer generation, but it's worth a shot if it's done very well.

Full article here (TakePart)


  1. Virtual, schmirtual. I want the real thing. I want real love, real sex, real games, real connections, real experiences and real dolphins. :)

  2. Ew, but not all at once. I just realized that sounded kinky and questionable.