• Screengrab from David Attenborough's First Life VR (Australian Museum)Source: Australian Museum
The legendary natural history presenter is paying a virtual visit to the Australian Museum - in two unique VR films.
Signe Dean

7 Apr 2016 - 2:56 PM  UPDATED 7 Apr 2016 - 2:56 PM

Sitting right next to Sir David Attenborough in a tiny submarine and experiencing the natural world through his eyes would be an incredible treat for many natural history lovers.

The legendary TV presenter is almost 90 years old, but that doesn’t stop him from continuing to embrace the latest technology - in this case, immersive 360 degree short films presented with the help of virtual reality headsets.

This week the Australian Museum in Sydney will premiere the first two Attenborough nature documentaries created exclusively for VR by production company Alchemy VR. Shown last year at London’s Natural History Museum, it’s the first time both films will be screened outside UK.

8 amazing 360 video experiences from around the world
From swimming with dolphins to Mardi Gras, 360 degree videos are making the internet more immersive than ever.

Coral awareness

The Great Barrier Reef Dive virtual reality experience literally plunges you underwater together with Sir David Attenborough himself, in a tiny glass submersible equipped to provide close encounters with the rich, diverse life of Australia’s greatest natural treasure.

Seeing this underwater world in 360 degrees feels like a unique diving trip with unbelievable access to marine life without so much as even getting your toes wet. Not only does the viewer get up close and personal with various corals, learning about their life cycle and behaviour, but it’s also a chance to swim with the many fish that rely on the coral reef for their existence.

This VR experience was filmed in collaboration with Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station, located 270 km north of Cairns. The project was done as part of filming for the latest BBC documentary on the Great Barrier Reef which premiered late last year.

Australian Museum's CEO Kim McKay has expressed hope that exciting virtual reality experiences such as these could also raise public awareness of the plight of the UN-listed heritage site.

Recent data from aerial surveys has shown extensive coral bleaching due to record-breaking high water temperatures. As the coral reef changes colour from brown to white, it means the marine algae providing most of the life energy for corals has been expelled. When temperatures stay high, eventually the corals start to die, resulting in tremendous loss of biodiversity.

Meanwhile the other film premiered this week at the museum did not require a physical location to create. First Life is a CGI trip a long way back in time - you get to encounter the very first multicellular life forms that emerged, flourished, and eventually perished in the prehistoric oceans of our planet.

As Attenborough’s narration takes you through hundreds of millions of years of evolution, you get to witness life as it first appeared, from odd leaf-shaped organisms to gigantic scorpion-like creatures on the bottom of the sea.

Immersed right in the middle of the action, it’s easy to get a little vertigo as you float along Opabinia, the ancient seabed creatures that sported five eyes and an eccentric-looking trunk.

And, speaking of vertigo, these virtual reality screenings on standard Samsung Gear headsets come with a multitude of health and safety warnings - they’re not suitable for people under the age of 13, and you certainly shouldn’t watch them while drunk or sleep-deprived.

David Attenborough's Great Barrier Reef Dive VR and David Attenborough's First Life VR is showing at the Australian Museum in Sydney from 8 April to 5 May.

But if you can't make it, we do have a bit of Sir David available to watch below.

David Attenborough on SBS On Demand