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Swim with virtual dolphins, a real therapy

Ⓒ AFP – JOHN THYS – | Man swims with virtual reality goggles to watch dolphin films in Apeldoorn, The Netherlands, October 31, 2017

Benno bathes in a swimming pool of the most mundane, made of tiles and chlorine, when suddenly sees pass under his eyes a dolphin, slow, graceful … and virtual. An animal that, even unreal, has therapeutic virtues, especially for people with disabilities or suffering from chronic diseases.

“There is something magical about dolphins: we think of joy, enthusiasm, happiness, innocence …”, says Marijke Sjollema. “And that even has healing properties!”

It was from her first encounter with the marine mammal in 1993 that the Dolphin Swim Club Association was founded, founded with her business consultant husband, Benno Brada.

She was diving off Mexico when she “saw this gray shadow in the water” and thought, panicking: “It’s the end!” Before realizing, in a “fraction of a second”, that “it was not a shark, but a dolphin”, says smiling this Dutch artist, eyes sparkling.

Since then, the couple has devoted their free time, energy and personal resources to their new passion, with a mission: to let people know, too, the magic of meeting dolphins.

– ‘Zen’ –

Their first film project on dolphins to watch with virtual reality glasses dates back to late 2015.

Then, in October, they took a step further by creating a system to view the film in the water, with dive glasses to which is attached a smartphone in a waterproof housing, printed in 3D with recycled plastic.

Ⓒ AFP – JOHN THYS – | A woman swims with virtual dolphins in a pool in Apeldoorn, The Netherlands, October 31, 2017

Rubber goggles taped on the face and snorkeled in the mouth, swimmers can watch, wherever they look, bottlenose dolphins and long-billed dolphins whirl around them, while floating in the tropical water of a pool as hot as the Caribbean Sea.

Lulled by aquatic music, they are both immersed in a real sensory world and projected into a universe of virtual dolphins.

A priori experience unique in the world and a therapy that is still in its test phase.

“Our dream was to find an alternative to therapeutic diving using captive dolphins,” says Benno Brada to therapists, sitting on the edge of the swimming pool in a residential community neighborhood suitable for people with disabilities.

This center, headed by the organization ‘s Heeren Loo, is currently testing the waterproof system after seeing its prowess on dry land.

No less than 82% of customers feel really relaxed when they watch these films, according to the findings of the director of health care policy, Johan Elbers.

“It gets them out of the world they are in,” he says. “They enter a different state of mind, think differently, feel differently, see differently and completely relax.”

Ⓒ AFP – JOHN THYS – | Virtual reality glasses to watch movies about dolphins tested in a swimming pool in Apeldoorn, The Netherlands, October 31, 2017

A woman suffering from insomnia for a long time found in virtual reality the best sleeping pills, while behind these glasses a young man completely forgot the throbbing pain he had in his arm.

Dion, a 21-year-old resident of this establishment, with gummed hair and thick glasses, explains that “the sounds of dolphins and water” make him “zen”.

– When are the sharks? –

“Stress plays a very important role in the emergence of all kinds of psychiatric problems,” says psychiatrist Wim Veling, from the University of Groningen (south), on the site of the Dolphin Swim Club. “We try in therapy to make people more relaxed.”

Ⓒ AFP – JOHN THYS – | Rubber goggles taped on the face and snorkel in the mouth, swimmers can watch dolphins whirl around them, while floating in the water of a pool as hot as the Caribbean Sea

The “strength” of virtual reality is to allow immersion in another world, says one who studies the use of this technology to help people with mental health disorders.

Developed with a grant of 50,000 euros from the Dutch government, the glasses of Marijke Sjollema and Benno Brada broadcast real films shot in the Red Sea in 2015 by the team of specialists Viemr.

During this ten-day shoot, apneists able to hold their breath for more than five minutes silently danced alongside the dolphins, capturing rare moments.

The first version of the glasses is already used dry by more than 150 universities, hospitals and community centers around the world. Therapists decide on a case-by-case basis how often patients do this kind of “immersion” in virtual reality.

Marijke and Benn hope this virtual dive mask will be just as beneficial and are looking for a partner to launch its commercial manufacturing.

Dion, for his part, is ready to take a more exhilarating step: “videos with sharks or lions” where “the animal would hunt prey!” “It would be nice to see a little action,” he says, tongue-in-cheek.

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