Appeared in DIVER February 2007

SHELL SHOCK
Divernet
Why are hawksbill turtles taking such an interest in divers cameras lately - is it a matter of fight or flirt, asks Louisa Butler. She and Adam Butler took the pictures

THE HAWKSBILL TURTLE POPULATION OF THE RED SEA seem to have developed some strange behavioural patterns recently. These turtles are always a delight to encounter under water, but now they have developed an interest in divers latest must-have bit of kit - the underwater digital camera.
The turtles arent signing up for PADI speciality courses, but they do seem keen on getting up close and personal with underwater housings, as well as the divers wielding them.
I first heard of this digital fetish through my husband Adam. We are both underwater photographers living in Sharm el Sheikh, and dive four or five days a week with Canon 20D and 5D cameras in Ikelite housings rigged with Ikelite DS125 strobes.
Adam, soon after his arrival in Sharm more than a year ago, was lucky enough to encounter a turtle on a dive in Ras Mohammed National Park.
It soon became evident that there would be no need to fin after it, because the turtle headed straight for him - or, rather, for his camera fitted with an 8in dome port (thats a big one - bigger than the usual 6in, and very shiny!)
After attempting several times to bite the front of the port, the turtle eventually gave up. It then sidled up next to Adam and gave his tank a good whack with its shell. Thats some tank banger!
Later in the year I was diving the Dunraven, a British steamer that sank seven miles west of Ras Mohammed in 1876, and now lies between 15 and 30m next to the reef.
I spotted a lovely big hawksbill swimming gracefully up the hull of the upturned wreck towards our group. The hull is covered in sponges and hard and soft corals that attract turtles to feed.
This was the first time I had seen a turtle while holding a camera, so I wanted to get a good shot, but the turtle was more interested in another member of my group - a man wearing a fluorescent yum-yum yellow BC and carrying a new, very shiny, digital compact camera in housing.
At first the diver couldnt believe his luck. He was too busy framing his head-on shot of the turtle to suspect its more sinister intentions.
His excitement soon turned to fear as the beast closed until it was almost on top of him.
I watched, bemused (OK, I was flooding my mask laughing at a grown man being terrorised by a turtle), and fired off a few frames of the poor guy.
He swam backwards trying to escape, but the turtle persisted. What was this animal up to
On my camera was the same 8in dome port that had interested a turtle before, so I decided to try my luck while putting the other diver out of his misery.
I swam towards the attacking beast and, once near, proudly displayed my shiny dome port, catching the turtles attention almost immediately.
There I was, protected only by some waterproof digital nonsense from this big, prehistoric-style animal, now making a beeline for me. Awesome!
The turtle, which I thought was a male as it had a long visible tail, reached my camera and gave the dome port a good bite. I could feel the vibration as
I held onto the housing. I was firing off frame after frame and getting some lovely shots as he was so close!
Then I tried an experiment. Was it the turtles reflection in the dome port that was driving him batty Had I met the marine equivalent of Mr Vain
Keeping his attention, I swam backwards in a large circle to see if he would follow. He obliged.
I swam a little further and then turned the camera down into my lap, hiding the dome port.
He became one confused turtle after that. His expression said: Huh Feeling a bit mean, I showed him my dome again and he resumed the chase.
We had a good 15 minutes of fun before he wandered off, no doubt to chomp on some of the Dunravens lovely soft corals. As these creatures can stay under water for five hours after only one breath, as well as slow their heart rate to one beat per minute, I knew that he would get the better of me in the end.
That dive was by far the most amazing experience Id had diving, and as well as enjoying this interaction with such a beautiful creature, I had some lovely shots to prove it.
My only regret was that I was using a very wide lens that day to photograph the wreck, and even when his beak was on my camera, I still had most of his body in the frame rather than just his face.
So imagine my delight when I was diving Ras Mohammed two weeks later with Adam, and again met a turtle with a thing about Ikelite dome ports!
It was a smaller dome this time, but just as shiny. Best of all, I had an 18-50mm lens on, allowing me to get a beautiful face shot of my attacker!
Adam was also enjoying himself, as he managed to get shots not only of the turtle hurtling towards me (I had really been flaunting the dome port and it spotted me straight away) but also ones with the turtles head actually in the hood of the dome port while biting it.
If these turtles are being aggressive and defending their territory against their own reflection in the dome port, why was the Dunraven turtle so interested in the compact camera The reflection from the lens would have been tiny. Do turtles have magpie-like tendencies and simply like shiny things Or were these experiences more like advances than attacks
The two turtles that attacked me were both males, so it has crossed my mind that they were perhaps looking for a potential mate rather than a camera.
My Internet searches on this subject have been pretty fruitless, so answers on a postcard to DIVER, please!

Divernet Divernet
Full-on
Full-on hawksbill turtle - its usually their retreating rear end that photographers see.
Off
Off in search of new dome ports.