Meet Marijke Sjollema

After a chance encounter with a wild dolphin, followed by over two decades of fascination with cetaceans, artist Marijke Sjollema founded the Dolphin Swim Club in 2015. The art-project quickly grew into an organization that uses the healing power of art and nature to craft therapeutic experiences in virtual reality. The unique VR content is currently being used as a drug-free medicine in over 500 hospitals and healthcare institutions worldwide and is present in several scientific studies. In 2017 the organization developed waterproofVR goggles that allow users to swim in real water, with virtual wild dolphins, and experience real therapeutic effects. As well as providing an entirely cruelty-free alternative for so-called dolphin-assisted therapies with captive dolphins.


‘A lone swimmer just like me, we circled each other and looked deep into each other’s eyes. I could feel the sonar clicks passing through and I realized that this beautiful creature had now a better understanding than I did about how I looked inside. It felt very intimate and strangely enough also very caring, like someone cautiously checking after a heavy fall if perhaps something was broken. I was forever enchanted.’

Halfway 2014 I came into contact with 360° Virtual Reality. Always being more of a low-tech person, I immediately realized that this could be the ideal technique to tell the story and share the experience of encountering wild dolphins. It seems to be a style break, on being a painter however, I have another view on that: “It is a different technique and requires a different approach. For starters filming wild dolphins underwater in 360°VR is a rather experimental and adventurous team production. Here the word ‘dolphin’ already worked its magic to be able to interest some of the best specialists in the world for the project. However, as an artist, my main tool is the power of the imagination. Whatever technique and material must be relevant for what wants to be told. Indeed to have the whole ocean as a studio, venturing where no artist has gone before”.

Of course, this is not a production that one succeeds in alone. First of all consultant and husband, Benno Brada started to co-manage the project. Followed by collaborations with VR technicians, fundraising, free divers, marine biologist experts, post-production technicians, a media specialist and of course last but not least, the dolphins themselves. 

‘All of us became the Dolphin Swim Club. In December 2015, in the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea, we were fortunate enough to successfully film the resident spinner- and indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins. So now everyone can experience, through 360°VR to meet dolphins in their own home, the free oceans of the world. This time, however, not only a lone swimmer, and I would have been thrilled to have been able to merely capture that, but schools of up to 90 spinner dolphins swimming all around you.’

Absolutely one of the most fairytale-like aspects of the whole project, and there have been quite a few, is that we are undeniably official dolphin-approved! On the day we launched the crowdfunding for ‘the Dolphin Swim Club, two wild bottlenose dolphins showed up in front of the ‘headquarters’, the studio of Marijke Sjollema, at the coast of the Baltic Sea in Sweden. Not only was the timing in itself very special, the fact that dolphins are not native to the Baltic waters, making it a breath-taking miracle! The now famous duo Selfi & Delfi remained about 10 weeks in the area and became, of course, the source of many happy swimming adventures, and a lot of media attention, including Swedish National TV. We took it as a sign…