The coral reef community has lost one its great, early pioneers.
Hans Hass, icon of early European under-water exploration and marine
biology, died in Vienna on 16 July 2013. Born in 1919 in Vienna, his 73
movies and 32 books made him an idol for millions and he opened the
underwater world and SCUBA diving for thousands.
Armed only with underwater goggles like those used by South-Seas
pearl-divers, his first underwater adventures took place at the French
Riviera, then still an unspoilt underwater wilderness. Only two years later,
using home-made fins and camera housings, he explored and documented the
Caribbean. The resulting book “Among Corals and Sharks” led to his immediate
Together with the Draeger-Werke in Luebeck, he modified an emergency
surfacing unit for U-boat crews into the first rebreather. Since this
apparatus did not emit any bubbles, it was of course ideal for behavioral
studies of fishes. After the second World War, Jacques Cousteau popularized
SCUBA as we know it today, and Hass enthusiastically adopted the technique.
>From then on, Hass concentrated on developing underwater housings for
cameras, like the well-known Rolleimarin, in order to be able to film and
document the underwater world.
Hass’s acquisition of the three-mast schooner “Xarifa” in 1951 turned out a
milestone in coral reef science. He modified the ship into a floating
laboratory, customized for science and film-making. Expeditions into the
Caribbean, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean were financed from the proceeds
of his underwater movies, many of which won prestigious awards.
Capable and enthusiastic scientists accompanied Hass and produced many
scientific novelties. Together with the ethologist Irenaeus Eibl-Eibesfeldt,
Hass documented and studied the behavior of sharks and other fishes. Georg
Scheer studied the ecology and systematics of stony corals. Like all
scientists on board he was also responsible for the more mundane things of
life. As a former electrical engineer in Wernher von Braun’s team, he was
responsible for maintaining Xarifa’s electrical systems. After Xarifa was
sold in 1960, Hass became active in nature conservation (obviously with a
marine emphasis) and the study of human behavior, the latter together with
Eibl-Eibesfeldt. He bemoaned ideologies based on boundless economic growth
and resultant wastage of resources. He also rallied against the “mindless
pollution and exploitation of the world’s oceans” and was among the first
demanding protection of sharks, which had been favorite study objects since
the very beginnings of his work.
Hans Hass leaves behind his wife of 62 years, Lotte. Her presence added a
special touch to Hans’s life and movies, both in front of and behind the
camera. Their work and adventures were appreciated by millions, and many
young men and women who so ardently admired them on the screen eventually
ended up themselves as marine biologists. Thus the work of Hans and Lotte
Hass and their scientific friends, has not only spawned appreciation for the
wonders of the marine world, but much science in their day and, even more
importantly, generations of young scientists eager to emulate and carry on
their legacy. We have lost one of the truly great pioneers of our science.
Prof. Helmut Schuhmacher and Bernhard Riegl
Professor and assoc. Director
National Coral Reef Institute
Nova Southeastern University
8000 N Ocean Drive, Dania, FL 33004
954-262 3671; Fax: 954-262 4098