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What's Underwater in Bermuda

Unlike Dolphin Quest, friends of helmet divers are free to come and go as they wish. Helmet diving is better than a Bermuda glass-bottom tour, or Bermuda snorkeling for viewing fish in Bermuda. In a glass-bottom tour you are stuck at the top and snorkeling and scuba diving involve kicking which can scare fish. This eco-tour is so great because you are right with the fish. In the end the means to be underwater is irrelevant. The marine creatures are only interested in what is in it for them. We are not all that different. They become used to you and you can make friends, develop a relationship, and even hold them. A peaceful, patient, and understanding attitude, plus food, is all that is needed to make friends with any creature, man or beast.

Friends showing up on an almost daily basis

Hogfish in Bermuda Hogfish in Bermuda are scared of spearfishermen Fantastic news! On May 28th of 2008 we made a new friend. I know this fish was special from the first time I saw him. The way to make friends with a hogfish is to give them a mussel. This is a hard feat if you are unknown and a viewed as a threat. The way to do it is to jump so your hand is out of water. Then you can throw the mussel through the air and have it drop in front of retreating hogfish. Well! This fellow pulled a hand brake turn and just about got the mussel before it hit the bottom. The next day the routine was repeated. We then had a four day break consisting of a weekend and no booking on the Monday. On Tuesday Charles IV was eating mussels off the bottom that were simply dropped (Then one must back away respectfully and wait.) By Thursday this bold fish was eating out of my hand. (Hand resting immobile on reef). By Saturday we had achieved 'join-up' and our new friend was eating from my hand mid-water with very little hesitation. This amazing fish is still with us and is our star attraction. There is no other tour in the world that has a hogfish you can touch and hold. With a bit of luck he will be there on your dive!

Helmet divers and Bermuda hogfish Greg Hartley and Charles the Hogfish in Bermuda I never would have thought it possible, but here is proof. Some hogfish are so greedy (Gastronomicaly motivated), that they will allow themselves to be held. That is right .....In park...Not moving! Within weeks this fantastic fish was allowing me to take him from person to person to be held. My cat will not even put up with that abuse. Yes, a domestic cat that would scratch you as he lept in protest from your arms. Now we have a fish, out in the wild, that will let complete strangers touch and hold him. That is right a whole row of six or seven divers, pawing, holding and groping awkwardly at this majestic fish. I can sense his resignation to this procedure, knowing there would be food given to him after the last person had touched him.
Some divers are scared and I have to just about put their hands on him for them to accept this miracle that they can hold a hogfish. Some folks casually hold him as they would mindlessly hold a drink at a party. And then there are others whose reaction of appreciation and look of amazement make me feel that this the best way for me to spend my life. Click here to see a YouTube video of me holding Charles. My brother did a great jop putting this up but the light is in the wrong place and the video quality does not do Charles justice. Remember to click 'back' and not get too distracted on other videos. There is another YouTube videoof my brother putting Charles 'under manners'. After looking at the two videos it will become clear that Charles knows me and is more tolerant of my handling him. My brother, being a Hartley, knows how to handle fish, but Charles is resisting his will being bent by one who has not fed him on a regular basis. It is not so much about love and trust, as it is FOOD.
Squirrelfish in Bermuda Like his namesake in the 'Lord of the Rings', Gollum prefers darkness and nighttime. Their daytime vision is poor which results in either shy or inappropriate behavior. He has big dark eyes with a bewildered look. You would not want to hold him because he is spiny, but his vivid red color makes him a favorite.The spiny, nocturnal nature of the squirrel fish is like a double edged sword. On one hand their poor daytime eyesight leads them to swallow hooks, for they can not see the line. The enthusiasm of the fisherman quickly turns to frustrated disappointment. Many, not wanting to pricked by spines, simply whirl the poor fish on the end of the line and slap them on the dock until they no longer move. The fish is then usually stepped on while the hook is removed, and then either kicked overboard or cut up alive for bait. The upside to this situation is that fish are very respectful of them. I have had quite large groupers get chased by squirrel fish. They have no teeth and simply swallow their sleeping prey at night. However, groupers and others can't eat them becuse of the spines. So remember, you usually pick up the good end of the stick. However, you are still in posession of the bad end as well.Click here for more squirrelfish photos.
Hartley's undersea walk, Bermuda Leyroy attempted to fill the fins of Stormin Normin upon her departure. He was named Leroy by James Baxter in an attempt to represent 'the brothers'. Leroy Brown was the badest man in town. However, Leroy is actually number three in ranking. Number two bites him and me and is a pain in the fingers. Number two hides above or behind me, and comes darting out of the blue when a piece of squid hovers a millisecond in sight more than it should. Leroy is kind natured and poses well for photos. He tolerates being pushed around for photos cause he knows he will get fed. Divers are asked not to grope, grab, and molest him. He is tolerant when they do not listen. The idea is that he gets touched and then fed. It is like he is getting paid to be touched. It is unfair to have something taken from you without compensation. He is still here so he must think that it is an OK deal.
Class trip in Bermuda better than snorkeling Miss Dodwell in Bermuda feeding Diana Her official title is, Holacanthus Bermudensis, but we call them Bermuda angelfish. Diana will grace you with her charm and beauty. Her skin is rough so she can't slip away if you grab her. If you do not try to touch her , she will approach you within inches, to either pose in your photo, or to be fed. She is very clever and demonstrates this by swimming through a hoop. Diana swims very gracefully, eats very delicately and is not aggressive to fish of other species. Sad update! In 2002 a hurricane came close by and swept away all three well trained angelfish. It had been great because if one was full or did not feel like performing another would step in. The next year 2003 I trained another one and we were becoming good friends. She would go through the hoop and even pose for some photos. Then Hurricane Fabian took that one as well. Now there are only very small angelfish left so I will have to wait for some to grow up. C'est la vie. UPDATE FROM 2004 All this season I worked with this very small angelfish. Things were progressing very slowly. My complaints around the dinner table prompted my daughter to remind me to be patient and that perhaps this angel fish was a dumb blonde of the fish world. No matter how I tried she would not come over to our windows and needed constant luring through the hoop with food. Fury not, fair flaxen females! The truth was revealed mid-summer when very large intimidating Stormin' Norman went of to the annual spawning convention. Diana's performance improved daily by great degrees. The conclusion is that she knew all along what was required, but she could not concentrate with that big scary snapper swinmming all around. Her performance retrogressed upon Stormin's return. With a bit of luck, as time goes by, she will not remember so vividly the times when she was so small that she had to fear most larger fish.
As of July23, 2011 we are still without a commited angelfish. Twice I brought sponges to our reef to tempt angelfish to be friends. I now have one who will go though the hoop but will not eat squid and will not show up each dive.
Look TV in Bermuda helmet diving Hind posing for photo with helmet diver Herb is a Red Speckled Hind but he can change hue. He also has a friend, Herb Junior, with whom he would rather not share food. Herb being the larger of the two will assume a light sand matching colour and come right out away from the reef and wait undrneath me as I am kneeling. I will then sneak a piece of food in my hands and cup it by my window (praying posture). Herb will bravely come up to my window andgulp the food before any snappers figure out what is going on. Herb Jr. has to meekly stay on the reef (assuming a darker reef colour) and wait till later in the dive to eat. As of July 2011 we have three red hinds on the squid roll. Click here for Herb's home page.

Friends of the past

Greg Hartley with snapper in Bermuda
Oliver first made friends with us in 1989. He was quite unafraid so I made bold to touch and hold him. Within three days he was so tame that I was passing him around to be held. He would let me roll him on his back to 'play dead'. Although he was as frisk as a large puppy, he was a bully to the other snappers. His view is that humans, while diving in Bermuda, have come only to see, feel, touch, but most importantly, feed him. Normally snappers eat anchovy type fish, tomtates, grunts, or any reef fish small and slow enough to end up in his mouth. He is quite a character and I love him dearly.

Sandy Hartley in Bermuda Helmet diver Greg Hartley in Bermuda In 1991 a new larger snapper we named Stormin Norman appeared on the scene and demoted Oliver to number two in rank. Whenever Stormin was away, Oliver would fill his fins and perform as he did in the olden days. Stormin would bite Oliver very hard if he caught him with us. I would wince as Stormin would spit out Oliver's large scales. I have concluded that Oliver is male as he is very agressive towards the other snappers and would chase them all away. Because of her large egg laying size I have concluded that Stormin is female. Stormin is more tolerant of the other snappers and lets them come around. Every year in mid-summer the snappers go off and congregate to spawn. Bermudian helmet divers In 2003 Oliver returned with a damaged, decomposing eye. Oliver has now been banished from the school and will swim away from any snapper who chases him. He has turned a stressful dark grey and I thought he would die the winter of 2003-2004. He has hung in there and now must be over 30 years old. He hangs out about 50 to 80 feet from the boat and I throw whole squid to him while dropping small bits near the boat to keep the other snappers close and off Oliver's case. It is sort of a pension as he can no longer come up to us and perform because any medium or large snapper will give chase.It is with regret that I must conclude Oliver died during the winter because he has not shown all 2005 or 2006. He will be missed, but not by Stormin.

As of July 2007, Stormin has stopped coming by. She returned from the annual spawning aggregation for a couple of days and then just left mid-trip. When the angelfish was not there to pose for photos, Stormin would get pushed around for all thephotos and people would grab her the whole time. When I could see an irritated response I would intruct divers to ease up on the fish molesting. Then Stormin would only be touched at a specific time and then fed immediately after. Who knows why. Bottom line...no more Stormin.
Hogfish with helmet divers in Bermuda Click to enlarge photo of Charles Over the past 14 years I have tamed three hogfish. Charles III was about 28 inches long. Hogfish first mature into females and then you can tell they have finally mature into males by the general hog shape of the snout. They eat crabs, small lobsters and shellfish but not swimming type fish. Charles was quite slim, tall and a bit ungainly. If I touched him too much he would go off to sulk. Therefore, we had to be content to merely gaze upon his majestic personae in awe. He hovered in the way to beg and did not take offense when he needed to be pushed away. He had big orange eyes that roll around looking at everybody. One look told you that there is a light on inside, someone is in there, and he wanted you to feed him. Sound the taps! In April of 2004 Charles was killed by a spearfisher. Probably a guest worker going through the beer, babes and barbacue routine. Many immature minds have this mind set that macho men go spearfishing. Anyway, it was with the slight guilt of misrepresentation that I kept Charles photo online as I hoped that I could make friends with a new one. Two full seasons have gone by and I have not even seen an adult to have the opportunity to make friends. Many days I would leave a mussel on the bottom upon departure to entice any hogfish that passed by when we were not there to hang around incase any more mussels should appear. No luck! but it did get the attention of a new friend...E.T.(Phone Home) Click to see baby hogfish. 69kb shot.
I find that by observing fish behavior I can get new insight into human behavior. For example, although I knew Charles for many years, he was never comfortable with me or anyone toughing or holding him. Surely, after all those years of feeding him, he would understand that I would never hurt him. Why would he mistrust me when, day after day, all I would ever do is feed him. If were to simply put one finger behind his pectoral fin to stop him from backing up and then offer him his most favourite food, he would not be able to eat. The lesson is to accept that many times people are a certain way, not out of choice, or because they want to piss you off, but simply that is the way they are wired. People can change, but some changes require much time and patience.

Porcupine puffer and Bermuda helmet divers Porcupine puffer in Bermuda In 2009 made quite regular appearences, at least once a week. He is quit an amazing fellow. First of all he does not shoot out quills. Secondly there is no poisin in the spines. They are only dangerous to eat. In Japan it is considered a delicacy, a gastronomic pleasure, an oral sensual indulgence. Only trained chefs may carve up this delicacy to separate poisin from pleasure. A pleasure the Emperor is not permitted to enjoy. It would be bad for the empire if the Emeror should die. It is also bad for the puffer.
ET eats mussels crabs and other crunchy invertebrates. Click here to see a shot of E.T.chewing. We get him to slurp in a mussel and then hold hands on his back and tummy to feel the crunching vibrations as he chews up the mussel. He has big bug out eyes that can actually retract almost an inch inward like a turtle's head. He has this adaptation as he is a bit ungainly and will bump into things. ET had a scratch on his eye this summer that I hope will heal. According to some divers, puffers will inflate if you smack them on the tail. The thought would never have occured to me. We want him to be our friend. Click here to see another video of my brother, Chris, fondling and molesting E.T. You can see that things are not going according to the program as E.T. sees it. The usual routine is to be touched briefly by everybody and then be fed. He is good natured and will tolerate quite a bit if there is food in the end. I was filming, but did feed E.T. after all the interference with his personal liberty. E.T. tapered off his visits and stopped coming by in 2010. Click here for detailed photos and information on E.T.'s home page.

Moray eel in Bermuda Franklinwas my favorite friend. When he graced us with his presence, we all got to touch him as he slipped between our fingers. He was a treat to the senses, very gentle, rarely bit-by mistake, not aggression. He was my friend and diving buddy since 1991. You would fall in love with him when if you had met him on your undersea walk. Moray eels have poor eyesight and are usually nocturnal. Franklin had altered his schedule for your convenience. You would have been amazed by him and have never touched anything as soft and smooth in your life. Click here for detailed photos of Frank on his page.
It seems that our blessed time with Frank has ended. In 2006 he stayed absent till late in May, arrived very hungry, ate like a pig, settled down to his usual self, and then stopped coming out. He did not seem sick. After all those winters of fending for himself, he had certainly not forgotted how to hunt. It is a mystery but one should not expect of see, caress or be blessed by Franklin's presence. I am only keeping him on the web site for the benefit of all the divers, since 1991, who have had the honour of touching him. As of Thursday July 14, 2011 we have made first contact with a new goldentailed eel. We hope he will become a regular....He did not. There has only been one Franklin.

Helmet diver Andrew Nash Luck would have it that a very large angelfish was out exploring one day and we had a chance meeting. Because the other fairly large angelfish had been swept away, it allowed this one to explore in previously occupied territory. I quickly dropped half a mussel shell and backed away respectfully from my offering. I was presented with a look and attitude of "Who the heck are you and what is your problem", as she swam away. Two days later she was back. This time I really hurt her head by feeding the small timid angelfish. The painfull confusion is created by a large confident angelfish watching a small fry angelfish do something she was afraid to do, and get fed doing it. It only took her three times to figure it out. Because she assumed such a nonchalante bold attitude towards the snappers, even when they were bolting about feeding-frenzy-style, I named her Queen Latifa. She is big. She is bold. She has attitude. "So you are a snapper...What is your problem...Big deal...It means nothing to me! It is strange how you do not really appreciate something until it is gone. End of season 2006...September...Hurricane Florence kills Queen Latifah. I miss her posing in people's portraits and Stormin's patience runs thin when he gets pushed around having to pose in everyones photo. By October I have a new angelfish in training but she is small, timid and does not pose for photos yet. Click here to see a fairly poor quality YouTube video a passenger took, of Queen Latifah going through her hoop.
George the Grunt in Bermuda George has been with us about 10 years. He must be quite old as the bloom of youth has worn off. His blue is not as bright and his yellow a bit too mellow. However, besides wisdom, there are some advantages with age. You get to push the other grunts around. These grunts have been called 'Kissing Grunts'. Each grunt stakes out their own territory. When there is a boundary dispute, the grunts face each other with open mouths. The rational is that if my mouth is bigger than yours, I am bigger than you. There are four grunts that have made friends with us. The biggest and oldest I call George because my father had a George the Grunt in the 1940's. George goes where ever he wants. The three smaller ones each have there own areas and if we stay too long on any boundary, the grunts will line up just to make sure all parties concerned acknowledge the boundary positions. Like stripes on a zebra or markings on whale flukes, the pattern on the nose where the stripes meet is different in each fish. One grunt I called 'Circuit Face' because the pattern resembled a circuit board. Another I called 'Trident' because one stripe divided into three as it rounded hes nose. George is probably dead now and I have not been able to make friends with a new one, yet. There are lots of french grunts milling about to give the appearance of lots of fish.
Click to enlarge photo of Graham Graham is not a very sociable fish and spends most of his time hiding. To be fair he is a lurking predator who hides in the shadows to bolt out when least expected to swallow some unsuspecting prey whole. Of course he is only about six or seven inches long which is fine by me. If he is caught, most self respecting fishermen will throw him back in disgust. His flesh is non-toxic (edible or as they say good eating). Graham's dark colour and Stormin belting around keep Graham hiding and peeering from a hole. In the photo he has just done 0 to 60, gulped the squid I have thrown for him and then executed a handbrake turn, hence the dust to the right side of the photo. A split second later he will be out of sight. I feed him every dive in the hopes that he will get big enough to hold. This can only happen if Stormin is not with us anymore. Back in the 80's I had a Grasby I could hold named Maggie in honour of Margret Thatcher.

There are many other fish that either come on an irregular basis, or do not separate themselves from the rest of the bunch. There are too many to mention and they are all glad to se us. Join us underwater to behold creation as it stands.

Shore tour for non-swimmer Testimonial From Repeat Bermuda Visitor

    As a "non-swimmer", it is great to know that there is a way to interact withthe undersea world. I visit Bermuda twice a year and continue to come back to Hartley's again and again and re-visit some of the fish that I've become friends with.
     I believe that this is a "not-to-be-missed experience", and will continue to return every year.
Denese Schunk
4237 Devereaux St. Philadelphia PA, 19135"

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What's Underwater     Departure Point & Procedures     Schedule     Prices & Booking     F.A.Q.     Cruise To Bermuda     Transportation     History     Testimonials     Boat Info     Undersea Poetry     Bermuda Maps     Links     Invertebrates     PRINT, FILL OUT AND BRING THIS FORM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0CIUR_6uEY Chris http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvSjI52LwmE sandy