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Original Issue


"All life on land is life in exile," proclaims the Austrian-born underwater adventurer Hans Hass at the beginning of his book, Men Beneath the Sea (St. Martin's Press, $12.95). It is only natural, therefore, that man should return to where he and all animals began. The return here is not meant literally; rather it is a return with fins and tanks, as divers—the rubber-suited creatures Hass has dubbed "menfish."

Under sections entitled "Invasion," "Expansion" and "Consequences," Hass chronicles the history of menfish from the early 1900s to the present. He relates step by step the evolution of "artificial lungs" from the first pure-oxygen "self-contained-underwater-breathing apparatus"—from which the word "scuba" was derived—to the sophisticated mixed-gas tanks in use today. He devotes chapters to underwater photography, treasure diving and geography. And, of course, he takes time out to tell some whopping tales about sharks, creatures he describes as "sensitive, indeed almost high-strung." There are more than 40 color photos of divers and rare marine animals (which may explain the book's price).

Hass himself made his first dive in 1937 and was struck by the potential of the ocean. He did not foresee that that potential might be ill-used. Indeed, he admits to unthinkingly encouraging underwater hunting in his early writings. By now such hunting has become not so much sport as an ugly fad—one that has decimated reefs worldwide.

The point is that no one knows what will happen as man intrudes more and more into the underwater world. What, for instance, are underwater laws? And what of under-seas morality? The current use of friendly whales and dolphins for government espionage and bomb planting seems to approach the limits of exploitation.

As have Cousteau and others, Hass pleads for responsibility and moderation. Unfortunately, his writing bristles with words like "conquest," "invasion" and "battle"—terms of aggression traditionally used by Westerners approaching a new frontier.

His hope, nevertheless, is that manfish will be "spiritually transformed" by his new surroundings, that from the sea he will receive "a certain wisdom, a different way of thinking, judging and making decisions." Given our record on land and our brief history under water, such character reversal would appear to be a long shot.