Wonders of the coral reef
Exploring the world’s best-known coral environment on Australia’s east coast, David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef it is an interactive journey around this “beautiful but threatened world”. He investigates in detail some of the 1,500 species of fish and 600 types of corals that live on the 133,000 square mile reef, to tell the story of one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth and the damage caused by climate change – through interactive intervals of weather, videos, weather maps and even a “mantis shrimp view” tool. As part of the Netflix documentary Chasing Coral, which investigates coral bleaching worldwide, the Ocean Agency has created a series of 360 degree images on Google Earth (click on the tabs in the bottom left corner to fly between locations). Also try AirPano, which offers a glimpse of a colorful reef near Indonesia’s Komodo Island, through a interactive photo.
Swim with sharks
Duuun dun. Duuun dun. Dun-dun-dun-dun-dun… Maybe nothing will ever beat this movie when it comes to galleophobia-inducing experiences, but there are also many virtual ways to get closer. The great white can grow up to six meters in length and reach a speed of 35 mph. It gets chilling down your spine in this 360 degree video on the island of Guadalupe, in Baja California, Mexico, where the viewer is outside the cage. Elsewhere, National Geographic created an immersive video of a face-to-face meeting with a hammer shark in the Bahamas. The Discovery Channel captured a Whale shark – the biggest fish on the planet – in 360 degrees. And the MythBusters team on the same channel also shot about 30 reef sharks together near the Bahamas Ray of Hope wreck as part of a broader research project about shark fears. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of a Exploreorg’s webcam stream in the Atlantic near Cape Fear, North Carolina.
Diving with dolphins
Swim with wild dolphins in a 360 degree video Dolphin Swim Club, created as a “humane alternative to so-called therapies assisted by dolphins with dolphins in captivity”. The research organization has also developed UnderwaterVR waterproof goggles, allowing swimmers to experience virtual wild dolphins and associated therapeutic effects. In the Bahamas, the Dolphin Project asks viewers to make a commitment during their 360 degree video, not to buy tickets for shows that use dolphins in captivity. BBC Earth’s Our Blue Planet VR video series includes a immersive virtual reality experience dolphins and ocean rays. A marine biologist narrates the scene on the coast of Mexico, near the island of San Benedicto, and although filmed in 3D, it is worth watching even without a virtual reality headset.
Seaweed forest coastline
Underwater seaweed jungles cover about 25% of the world’s coasts, and each broad strip of kelp shaped like a ribbon can grow up to two feet a day. Helping to combat climate change, algae are highly efficient in storing carbon from the atmosphere – about 600 million tonnes a year, about twice what the UK emits. Ocean First Education, which offers online marine science courses, has created a immersive video venture into Anacapa’s seaweed forests in California’s Channel Islands National Park, which also has its own webcam stream. The nearby Channel Islands national marine sanctuary takes a virtual dive narrated with some playful sea lions. Elsewhere, BBC Earth 360 degree footage dives into a forest of Norwegian algae and another in Monterey Bay, California.
Exploring shipwrecks usually requires a diving qualification, but these interactive virtual tours take visitors to underwater locations without any danger. There are several 360-degree exploration videos in New Zealand, including the HMNZS Canterbury, a frigate warship, sunk to provide an artificial reef and shipwreck in 2007; and the MS Mikhail Lermontov, an ocean liner. The central ladder and starboard entry of the latter collapsed after an earthquake in 2016, so this video is now the only way to see these features. Other 360 degree video tour with narration narration explores the wreckage of the SS Thistlegorm, an armed merchant navy ship that was bombed in October 1941 near Ras Muhammad on the Red Sea, and is now a well-known dive site.
There is something magical about sea turtles – they can hold their breath under water for up to seven hours, live to be 100 years old and their favorite meal is seagrass jellyfish. National Geographic shot this 360 degree video on Buck Island Reef in the US Virgin Islands, one of the first protected marine monuments in the USA, created in 1961. It includes a rare glimpse of small chicks that head from the nest to the sea at night. THE Airpano Video catches a larger adult sea turtle from the Jardines de la Reina archipelago, largely uninhabited in Cuba, in the Caribbean. Almost all species of turtles are threatened with extinction, facing an increasingly difficult battle against a range of threats – from confusing plastic with food, poaching and light pollution on the beach.
The rays have the largest brain-size ratio of any fish. The largest is the blanket radius, which can grow up to seven meters in length. One of the best places to see them is Indonesia, as seen in this 360 Video by AirPano, shot off the coast of Raja Ampat, West Papua, which captures one of the giant aquatic gliders on a reef. The Discovery Channel also picked up a immersive close-up video of mantas swimming with whale sharks, and has a marine biologist explaining why anchor species like these are vital for the survival of the oceans. Often mistaken for the manta rays, the devil’s rays are its smaller cousins, with the mouth slightly under the face, instead of the front, and sharper “horns”. This one 360 degree video dives with a group off the coast of Santa Maria, in the Azores.
Floating with jellyfish
They may not have a brain, heart, bones or eyes, but jellyfish can be deadly. Gelatinous sea creatures have a “nervous network” that controls food, swimming and protective actions, and generally a set of fiery tentacles – which, in the case of the almost invisible sea wasp, the most deadly jellyfish on Earth, can kill a human with a dose the size of a grain of salt. Capturing the least terrifying, stingless jellyfish species in a lagoon in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, AirPano’s 360 degree video takes viewers into a vast swarm – known as a jellyfish scent. Another hypnotic immersive video it shows a singular pulsating translucent blob outside Cuba’s Jardines de la Reina.
Schooling and schooling
The way in which fish move instinctively in coordinated unison is known as schooling, which is different from school when fish come together for social reasons, such as defense, foraging or finding a partner. The form of schooling depends on the species – some form rectangles or ovals with swimming back and forth; others move in sequences of tornadoes. Showing a variety of formations, this AirPano 360 degree video it shows thousands of caranx and other reef fish near the island of Malpelo, 300 miles from Colombia’s Pacific coast. Other set of 360 degree still images, filmed on the coral reef of New Caledonia in the South Pacific – the largest continuous coral reef in the world at 1550 km – shows hundreds of more colorful reef varieties (click on the white arrows to explore the site).
Other monsters from the depths
With a brain in the middle of the body controlling the nervous system and several million neurons in its eight tentacles (allowing them to touch, taste and move objects independently), the octopus is, not surprisingly, highly intelligent animals. They were seen unscrewing pots, carrying coconut shells as armor and stacking stones. Try to find the octopus at the beginning of this 360 degree video by YouTuber Frédéric B – is almost completely disguised and continually changes the color of your skin as it moves, camouflaging itself against the rocky seabed. A narrated BBC Earth 360 degree dive video (photographed for 3D headphones whenever possible), descend with a diving team on Browning Wall, in British Columbia, Canada, passing by giant Pacific octopus, a huge wolf eel that hunts, sea lions and starfish.