Hans Hass

Hans Hass (23 January 1919 – 16 June 2013) was an Austrian biologist and underwater diving pioneer. He was known mainly for being among the first scientists to popularise coral reefs, stingrays and sharks. He pioneered the making of documentaries filmed underwater. He led development of a type of rebreather. He is known, too, for his energon theory[1] and his commitment to protecting the environment.[2][3]

Hans Hass
Born(1919-01-23)23 January 1919
Died16 June 2013(2013-06-16) (aged 94)
OccupationUnderwater diver, Documentary filmmaker

Early years

Hass was born in Vienna; his father was an attorney and Hass initially pursued law. However, Hass had a formative encounter with the American diver Guy Gilpatric while on a Riviera holiday in 1938[3] which included underwater hunting and photography. After making expeditions to the Caribbean Sea 1938-39 and writing his first professional articles, in 1940 Hass switched from reading law to zoology studies and graduated with a Ph.D. from the University of Berlin in 1943 at the Faculty of Biology. His thesis was the first scientific research using an autonomous rebreather diving equipment. In his early diving he used rebreathers, which he had made for him by the German diving gear makers Dräger: he had these sets made with the breathing bag on his back, as he did not like the bag-on-chest "frogman look". Hass and his team of researchers logged over 2000 dives utilising oxygen rebreathers from 1942 to 1953.[4]

Although, in a book by Callum Roberts, Don Stewart, one of the first scuba operators on the Caribbean island of Bonaire, blames Hass for single-handedly hunting the Atlantic goliath grouper to local extinction,[5] the author clearly refutes that claim later in the same paragraph.

Wartime period

Hass published "Diving to Adventure," his first book of underwater photographs, in 1939, and some credit him with developing one of the first underwater cameras. Hass completed his first underwater video called Pirsch unter Wasser (Stalking under Water) in 1940. It was published by the Universum Film AG, lasted originally only 16 minutes and was shown in cinemas before the main film, but would eventually be extended by additional filming done in the Adriatic Sea close to Dubrovnik.[6]

Hass moved from Vienna to Berlin in 1941, where he founded the tax privileged society Expedition für biologische Meereskunde (Expedition for biological oceanography).

Hass was excused from serving in the German military during the Second World War because of poor circulation in his feet caused by Raynaud's disease.[7]

On the proceeds of his hundreds of lectures, Hass was able to buy in 1942 the sailing ship Seeteufel. But he was not able to use the ship for his planned expedition because the ship was in the harbour of Stettin and it was not possible to bring it during the war to the Mediterranean Sea.[8]

Hass rented therefore in 1942 a ship in Piraeus and sailed for several months in the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Crete. Before the war this ship had been owned by the University of Vienna. During this expedition he took film and photos underwater. Hass had read the book Die Raubfischer in Hellas (The Pirate Fishers in Greece) written in 1939 by Werner Helwig. Hass found this group near Skiathos and was able to film their dynamite fishing under water.

In spring and summer 1943 Hass stayed for several months at the Stazione Zoologica in Naples and Capri to study and collect Bryozoa, aquatic invertebrate animals, for his doctoral thesis in zoology. In February 1944 he completed the thesis, to become a Doctor of Science.

Until the end of the war Hass lived and worked in the film studios of Universum Film AG in Babelsberg near Berlin to cut and finish his film about the expedition in the Aegean Sea. This 84 minute underwater film, Menschen unter Haien (Men among Sharks), was released in 1947. It shows marine life including wrasse, jellyfish, sponges, sea anemones and rays. Highlights are the dynamite fishing and interaction of divers with sharks.[6]

In Babelsberg he met Hannelore Schroth, a famous German actress. Hans and Hannelore married in 1945.

Post war activity and fame

In 1945 the Seeteufel was lost when the Soviets captured Königsberg.[8]

In 1947 his film Menschen unter Haien had its world premiere in Zurich, and his most popular book with a very similar title was released in 1948. As a consequence, he got contracts with Herzog-Film (Munich) and Sascha-Film (Vienna). He also went on his first "Xarifa" expeditions. The new research ship, named 'Xarifa', was mostly financed through photo safaris in the Red Sea and by the BBC.

Hass's marriage to Hannelore Schroth produced a son, Hans Hass, Jr. The marriage ended in 1950. He married his second wife, Lotte Baierl, the same year.

Hass produced 105 commercial films, many featuring himself and his second wife, who was an expert diver. In 1951, Hass's film Under the Red Sea was awarded first prize at the Venice Film Festival.

After expeditions in East Africa and South Asia his first TV series were developed in 1959, in 1961 for the first time about creatures outside the water. This was followed by behavioural research and the 'energon theory' from 1963 to 1966. From his behavioural research, Hass formed his energon hypothesis, the focus of his work in later years. It posits that the behaviours of all life-forms — human, nonhuman animal and plant — have common origins.[3] Combined with management strategies, in 1969 Hass published about commonalities with evolution. In the 1970s he addressed environmental and commercial themes and was appointed to a professorship by the University of Vienna. In 1983 he started long term studies and tutorials about predatory instincts in profession. Hass consolidated marine biology, behaviour research and management theories under one umbrella. From his point of view his energon theory cannot be disproved. In 1989 he addressed himself to environmental themes.

After the Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared in the waters of Cheviot Beach at Portsea, Victoria on 17 December 1967, Hass visited Australia and explored the area where Holt disappeared[9] for his 1971 film documentary Das Geheimnis der Cheviot Bay (The Secret of Cheviot Bay). In an interview with Harry Martin for the ABC's current affairs programme "A.M" Hass said that having observed the underwater conditions of the area with its sharp and jagged rocks he was convinced that Holt had been trapped in the structure of one of these rocks and his body considerably torn by the nature of the forces of the sea and the sharp rocks.

Hass acknowledged a rivalry with the better-known French scientist Jacques Cousteau; according to the New York Times obituary, Hass told historian Tim Ecott that "For Cousteau there exists only Cousteau. He never acknowledged others or corrected the impression that he wasn't the first in diving or underwater photography."[3]

Hass died on 16 June 2013 in Vienna. He was 94 and was survived by his wife and daughter Meta.[3] Lotte Hass died in January 2015. Hass's son Hans Hass Jr., an actor and composer, committed suicide in 2009.[10]

In 2002 the Historical Diving Society established the Hans Hass Award.[11]

Innovation in diving technology

His main innovations in diving technology were:[12]

  • 1938: New light-weight UW photo camera for ROBOT
  • 1940: First UW colour photos (Catalina Island, USA) and UW film
  • 1941: Development of the technique of swim diving for research, industry and sport.
  • 1944: Construction of a heliox rebreather (prototype)
  • 1949: New system of deep-sea-film and photography (called 'Bathyopthalm')
  • 1949: Worldwide patents for a new method of fishing by radio signals (called 'Elektro-Marina')'[13]
  • 1950: UW camera housing 'Leica System Hans Hass' with electronic flash
  • 1954: UW camera housing 'Rolleimarin System Hans Hass', also as stereo camera
  • 1955: Co-development and promotion of a UW watch (ENICAR Sherpa)
  • 1956: New patented design of swim fins (called 'Superfish')
  • 1973: Construction of a UW habitat (Almeria, Spain)
  • 1977: Construction of a small submersible together with the German firm BRUKER for deep-sea research, tourism and oil exploration.
  • 1983: Development and promotion of an innovative decompression computer (called 'Deco-Brain')


  • 4 popular films
  • about 70 television films
  • more than 25 books, including:
    • 1939: Jagd unter Wasser mit Harpune und Kamera (Hunt under water with harpoon and camera)
    • 1941: Unter Korallen und Haien (Among corals and sharks)
    • 1942: Fotojagd am Meeresgrund (Photo-hunt at the sea-bottom)
    • 1947: Drei Jäger auf dem Meeresgrund (Three hunters on the sea-bottom)
    • 1949: Menschen und Haie (Humans and sharks)
    • 1952: Manta, Teufel im Roten Meer (Manta, devil in the Red Sea): English version: Manta, Under the Red Sea with Spear and Camera, English translation by James Cleugh, 1952, Rand McNally & Co., Library of Congress Card Cat. No. 53-6152.
    • 1954: Ich fotografierte in den 7 Meeren (I photographed in the 7 seas)
    • 1957: Wir kommen aus dem Meer (We come from the sea)
    • 1958: Fische und Korallen (Fish and corals)
    • 1961: Expedition ins Unbekannte (Expedition into the unknown)
    • 1968: Wir Menschen. Das Geheimnis unseres Verhaltens (We humans. The secret of our behaviour)
    • 1970: Energon: Das verborgene Geheimnis (Energon: The hidden secret)
    • 1971: In unberührte Tiefen. Die Bezwingung der tropischen Meere. (Into untouched depths. Conquest of the tropical seas)
    • 1972: Vorstoss in die Tiefe. Ein Magazin über Abenteuer bei der Erforschung der Meere. (Raid into the depth. A magazine over adventures with the study of the seas)
    • 1973: Welt unter Wasser. Der abenteuerliche Vorstoss des Menschen ins Meer. (World under water. The adventurous raid of humans in the sea)
    • 1976: Eroberung der Tiefe. Das Meer - seine Geheimnisse, seine Gefahren, seine Erforschung. (Conquest of the deeps. The sea - its secrets, its dangers, its research)
    • 1976: Der Hans-Hass-Tauchführer. Das Mittelmeer. Ein Ratgeber für Sporttaucher und Schnorchler. (The Hans Hass dive guide. The Mediterranean. An adviser for sport divers and snorkellers.)
    • 1977: Der Hai. Legende eines Mörders. (The shark. Legend of a killer)
    • 1978: Die Schöpfung geht weiter. Station Mensch im Strom des Lebens. (The creation continues. Station of humans in the river of the life)
    • 1979: Wie der Fisch zum Menschen wurde. Die faszinierende Entwicklungsgeschichte unseres Körpers. (How fish became humans. The fascinating history of the development of our body)
    • 1980: Im Roten Meer. Wiederkehr nach 30 Jahren. (In the Red Sea. Return after 30 years)
    • 1985: Stadt und Lebensqualität. (City and quality of life)
    • 1986: Abenteuer unter Wasser. Meine Erlebnisse und Forschungen im Meer. (Adventure under water. My experiences and research in the sea)
    • 1987: Der Ball und die Rose (The ball and the rose)
    • 1988: Der Hai im Management. Instinkte steuern und kontrollieren. (The shark in the management. Instincts steer and control)
    • 1991: Vorstoss in unbekannte Meere (Push into unknown seas)
    • 1994: Die Hyperzeller. Das neue Menschenbild der Evolution. (The Hyper-cellars. The new human picture of evolution)
    • 1996: Aus der Pionierzeit des Tauchens. In unberührte Tiefen. (From the pioneer time of diving. Into untouched depths)
    • 2004: Erinnerungen und Abenteuer. (Memories and adventures)


  • First Prize of the Chancellor for the "best movie idea for an Austrian propaganda film" (1949)
  • Gold Medal of the Photographic Society in Vienna (1950)
  • Biennale Prize (1951)
  • The film "Adventures in the Red Sea" received the International Prize for feature-length documentaries for the 2nd Mostra Internazionale del Film Scientifico e del Documentario d'Arte in Venice (1951)
  • The TV series "Diving to Adventure" is from the BBC named "Programme of the Year" (1956)
  • Outstanding Underwater Photographer of the Year of the Underwater Photographic Society (USA, International Underwater Film Festival 1959)
  • Oscar for extraordinary underwater photography for the film Unternehmen Xarifa (1959)
  • Honorary Member of the German Skindiving (1974)
  • Honorary title "Professor", awarded by Science Minister Hertha Firnberg (1977)
  • Honorary Member of the European educational community - Verlag GmbH, Stuttgart (1978)
  • Science Medal of the City of Linz (1987)
  • IADS Lifetime Achievement Award (International Association of Diving Schools, 1989)
  • Golden Needle of the Association of German Sports Divers (VDST, 1994)
  • Honorary President "Sponsoring scuba diving" (1994)
  • Reg Vallintine Achievement Award for Historical Diving (UK, 1994)
  • Reaching Out Award (Diving Equipment & Marketing Association, United States; 1997)
  • Diving Pioneer Trophy of the Historical Diving Society (USA, 1997)
  • Diving Pioneer Award of the Historical Diving Society (Italy, 1997)
  • Austrian Decoration for Science and Art (1997)* [14]
  • Two NOGI Awards for Science and Distinguished Service (USA, 1998)
  • Gold Medal of Honour of Vienna (1999)
  • Honorary President of the PEN Club Liechtenstein (1999)
  • Konrad Lorenz Award for Environmental Protection (1999)
  • Golden Medal of Honour of the Austrian Federal Guild of Photographers (1999)
  • DANUBIUS Donauland Sachbuchpreis (1999)
  • Goldenes Lot the Association of German surveyors (1999)
  • International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame, 2000[15]
  • Dieter Plage-Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding achievement in the field of nature films (2001)
  • Christopher Parsons Award for outstanding achievement in the field of nature films (2004)
  • Peace Prize for Biology of the "World Association of Private Schools and Universities for Complementary Healing Practices" (2005)
  • Cayman Islands International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame Award (2006)
  • Wyland ICON Award (2006)
  • Beneath the Sea Special Award (2006)
  • Pannatura Prize for achievements in the nature film (2006)
  • Schmitz-Salue Medal by the Friends of Aquazoo-Löbbecke Museum, Düsseldorf (2009)
  • Elisabeth Mann Borgese marine prize (Schleswig-Holstein, 2009)
  • DIVA - German Entertainment Price (2011)
  • Platinum Romy for lifetime achievement (2012)
  • A cone snail, found in the Philippines, was named after him (Protoconus hanshassi) (2012)

See also


  1. Hass, Hans. "The Energon Theory". Retrieved 2012-04-10.
  2. "Tauchpionier Hans Hass gestorben" (in German). Wien: ORF (broadcaster). 2013-06-22. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  3. Vitello, Paul (July 7, 2013). "Hans Hass, 94, early explorer of the world beneath the sea". New York Times. p. A18. Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  4. Sanders, GS; Wendell, FE (1991). "Closed-Circuit oxygen apparatus: Minimising risks for improved efficiency". In: Hans-Jurgen, K; Harper Jr, DE (eds.) International Pacifica Scientific Diving... 1991. Proceedings of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences Eleventh Annual Scientific Diving Symposium. Retrieved 2013-06-22.
  5. Roberts, Callum. The Unnatural History of the Sea, Island Press, 2007, p. 238
  6. Hans-Hass-Institut für Submarine Forschung und Tauchtechnik. "Die Filme von Prof. Dr. Hans Hass" (PDF).
  7. Hans Hass: Erinnerungen & Abenteuer. Verlag Styria, Vienna 2004, ISBN 3-222-13155-4. S. 145
  8. "Легендарная «Надежда» - флагман флота морской школы Академии парусного спорта (The legendary "Nadezhda" - the flagship of the Navy Naval School Sailing Academy)" (in Russian). Yacht Club of Saint-Petersburg. Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  9. "Man of the sea" makes film of Cheviot Bay Trove: The Australian Women's Weekly, 18 February 1970. Retrieved 28 December 2015.
  10. http://www.was-wurde-aus.at/hanshassjr-presse_bunte10.htm
  11. "Information about the Hans Hass Award". Archived from the original on 2015-09-23.
  12. Jung, Michael: Hans Hass. Ein Leben lang auf Expedition. Stuttgart, 1994
  13. Patent No. GB673.826
  14. "Reply to a parliamentary question" (PDF) (in German). p. 1084. Retrieved 16 November 2012.
  15. "Hans & Lotte Hass". International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 6 January 2014. Retrieved 23 March 2014.
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