Jacques-Yves Cousteau (11 June 1910 – 25 June 1997) was a French naval officer, explorer, ecologist, filmmaker, scientist, photographer, author and researcher who studied the sea and all forms of life in water. He co-developed the aqua-lung, pioneered marine conservation and was a member of the Académie française. He was commonly known as Jacques Cousteau or Captain Cousteau.
In 1936, Tailliez lent him some Fernez underwater goggles, predecessors of modern diving masks. Cousteau also belonged to the information service of the French Navy, and was sent on missions to Shanghai and Japan (1938) and in the USSR (1939).
In 1930 he entered the French Navy as the head of the underwater research group. He later worked his way up the ranks as he became more famous and more useful to the navy. On 12 July 1937 he married Simone Melchior, with whom he had two sons, Jean-Michel (1938) and Philippe (1940). His sons took part in the adventure of the Calypso. In 1991, one year after his wife Simone's death of cancer, he married Francine Triplet. They already had a daughter Diane Cousteau (1980) and a son Pierre-Yves Cousteau (1982), born before their marriage. He was the brother of right-wing fascist journalist and WWII Germany collaborator Pierre-Antoine Cousteau (1906-1958).
Cousteau died at the age of 87 of a heart attack while recovering from a respiratory illness. He is buried in the Cousteau family plot at Saint-André-de-Cubzac Cemetery, Saint-André-de-Cubzac, France.
In 1943, they made the film Epaves (= Shipwrecks): for this occasion, they used the aqualung, which continued the line of some inventions of the 19th century (Rouquayrol and Denayrouze's Aerophore) and of the early 20th century (Le Prieur). When making Epaves, Cousteau could not find the necessary blank reels of movie film, but had to buy hundreds of small still camera film reels the same width, intended for a make of child's camera, and these had to be cemented together to make long reels.
Having kept bonds with the English-speakers (he spent part of his childhood in the United States and usually spoke English) and with French soldiers in North Africa (under admiral Lemonnier), Jacques-Yves Cousteau (whose villa "Baobab" at Sanary (Var) was opposite the villa "Reine" of Admiral Darlan), helped the French Navy to join again with the Allies; he assembled a commando operation against the Italian services of espionage in France, and received several military decorations for his deeds. At that time, he kept his distance from his brother Pierre-Antoine, a "pen anti-semite", who wrote the collaborationist newspaper Je suis partout (= I am everywhere), and was condemned to die in 1946. However this was later commuted to a life sentence, and Pierre-Antoine was released in 1954.
During the 1940s Cousteau is credited with improving the aqualung design which gave birth to the open-circuit scuba technology that we have today. According to his first book, The Silent World: A Story of Undersea Discovery and Adventure (1953), Cousteau started snorkel diving with a mask, snorkel, and fins with Frédéric Dumas and Philippe Tailliez. In 1943, he tried out the first prototype aqua-lung — designed by Cousteau and Émile Gagnan — which made lengthy underwater exploration possible for the first time.
In 1948, between missions of mine clearance, underwater exploration and technological and physiological tests, Cousteau undertook a first campaign in the Mediterranean on board the sloop Elie Monnier of Group of Study and Underwater Research (GERS) of the National Navy, with Philippe Tailliez, Frederic Dumas, Jean Alinat and the scenario writer Marcel Ichac. The small team also undertook the exploration of the Roman wreck of Mahdia (Tunisia). It was the first underwater archaeology operation using autonomous diving, opening the way for scientific underwater archaeology. Cousteau and Marcel Ichac brought back from there the Carnets diving film (presented and preceded with the Cannes Film Festival 1951).
Cousteau and Elie Monnier then took part in the rescue of the bathyscaphe of Professor Jacques Piccard, the FNRS-2, during the 1949 expedition to Dakar. Thanks to this rescue, the French Navy was able to re-use the sphere of the bathyscaphe to construct the FNRS-3.
In 1950: he founded the French Oceanographic Campaigns (FOC), and he leased a ship called Calypso from Thomas Loel Guinness for a symbolic one franc a year and equipped her as a mobile laboratory for field research and as a support base for diving and filming. In it Cousteau traversed the most interesting seas of the planet as well as big and small rivers. He carried out also underwater archaeological excavations in the Mediterranean, in particular at Grand-Congloué (1952).
With the publication of his first book in 1953, The Silent World He correctly predicted the existence of the echolocation abilities of porpoises (pp. 206-207), before they were discovered. He reported that his research vessel, the Élie Monier, was heading to the Straits of Gibraltar and noticed a group of porpoises following them. Cousteau changed course a few degrees off the optimal course to the center of the strait, and the porpoises followed for a few minutes, then diverged toward mid-channel again. It was evident that they knew where the optimal course lay, even if the humans did not. Cousteau concluded that the cetaceans had something like sonar, which was a relatively new feature on submarines. He was correct.
During his voyages, he produces many films (he got the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956 for the The Silent World co-realized with Louis Malle, and of the books which contributed to diffuse, with a popularity without precedent, the knowledge of underwater biology.
With the assistance of Jean Mollard, he made a "diving saucer" SP-350, an extraordinary underwater vehicle which can reach a depth of 350 meters. The successful experiment was quickly repeated in 1965 with two vehicles which reached 500 meters.
In 1957, he was elected as director of the Oceanographical Museum of Monaco. He directed Précontinent, of the experiments of diving in saturation (long-duration immersion, houses under the sea), and was one of the rare few from abroad admitted to the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The popularity of Jacques-Yves Cousteau grew.
In October 1960, a large amount of radioactive waste was going to be discarded in the Mediterranean Sea by the Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique (CEA). The CEA argued that the dumps were experimental in nature, and that French oceanographers such as Vsevelod Romanovsky had recommended it. Romanovsky and other French scientists, including Louis Fage and Jacques Cousteau, repudiated the claim, saying that Romanovsky had in mind a much smaller amount. The CEA claimed that there was little circulation (and hence little need for concern) at the dump site between Nice and Corsica, but French public opinion sided with the oceanographers rather than with the CEA atomic energy scientists. The CEA chief, Francis Perrin, decided to postpone the dump. Cousteau organized a publicity campaign which in less than two weeks gained wide popular support. The train carrying the waste was stopped by women and children sitting on the railway tracks, and it was sent back to its origin. The alleged risk was avoided. During this, a French government man had said falsely to a newspaper that Cousteau had approved the dump; Cousteau managed to get the newspaper to issue a correction.
In Monaco in November 1960, the official visit of French president Charles de Gaulle became famous because of their exchange in connection with the incidents of October and more largely in connection with the nuclear experiments. The ambassador of France had suggested to Prince Rainier any meeting be avoided; but Prince Rainier did nothing to prevent the presence of Cousteau at the time of de Gaulle's visit to the oceanographical Museum. The President asked the Commander in a friendly way to be nice with his atomic scientists; Cousteau answered "No sir, it is your researchers that ought to be kind toward us." In the discussion which followed, Jacques-Yves Cousteau deplored the American decision not to share nuclear secrets with France (for fear that certain French scientists, rejoined with Communism, might communicate them to the USSR), which led France to undertake its own research and nuclear experiments.
The meeting with American television (ABC, Métromédia, NBC) created the series ' "The Underwater Odyssey of Commander Cousteau", with the character of the commander in the red bonnet inherited from standard divers) intended to give to films more of a "personalized adventures" documentary style than a "didactic" one. On their subject, Cousteau explained: "people protect and respect what they like, and to make them like the sea, they should be filled with wonder as much as informing them."
In 1973, along with his two sons and Frederick Hyman, he created the Cousteau Society for the Protection of Ocean Life, Frederick Hyman being its first President; it now has more than 300,000 members.
On 28 June 1979, while the Calypso was on an expedition to Portugal, his second son, Philippe, his preferred and designated successor and with whom he co-produced all his films since 1969, was killed, cut by his Catalina seaplane's propeller. Cousteau was deeply affected. He called his then eldest son, the architect Jean-Michel Cousteau, to his side. This collaboration lasted 14 years.
On 2 December 1990, his wife Simone Cousteau died of cancer. This woman of great character who had spent more time than her husband on board Calypso was the égérie' of the Cousteau team.
In June 1991, in Paris, Jacques-Yves Cousteau remarried, to Francine Triplet, with whom he had (before this marriage) 2 children, Diane and Pierre-Yves. Francine Cousteau currently continues her husband's work as the head of the Cousteau Foundation and Cousteau Society. From that point, the relations between Jacques-Yves and his elder son worsened. Jacques-Yves put an end to their collaboration.
In November 1991, Cousteau gave an interview to the UNESCO courier, in which he stated that he was pro human population control and population decrease. The full article text can be found online.
In 1996, he prosecuted his son who wished to open a holiday center named "Cousteau" in the Fiji Islands.
In 1992, he was invited to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the United Nations' International Conference on Environment and Development, and then he became a regular consultant for the UN and the World Bank.
Jacques-Yves Cousteau died on 25 June 1997 in Paris, aged 87. His death was strongly felt in the United States, where he was one of the most popular Frenchmen. He was buried in the family vault at Saint-André-de-Cubzac in France. An homage was paid to him by the city by the inauguration of a "rue du Commandant Cousteau", a street which runs out to his native house, where a commemorative plaque was affixed.
During his lifetime, Jacques-Yves Cousteau received these distinctions:
After 1975, he considered for one moment to found worldwide Cousteau Clubs of young people, but finally this idea (which would have meant for its Team much work and few financial rewards) resulted only in publishing fanzines (Calypso Log, Le Dauphin) and in a voyage filmed in the Antarctic with children. It also refused to engage in policy at the side of the ecologists, not to give prizes to the personal attacks of the adversaries. Towards the end of his life, he became pessimistic and even misanthropist: An ideal planet, he affirmed to Yves Paccalet, would be a ground where humanity is limited to 100,000 people, but educated and respectful of nature.
The media power of Jacques-Yves Cousteau rested mainly on his image and that of a team linked with the same aim. Unfortunately, of the so publicised family conflicts they, of internal divisions and the consecutive lawsuits chipped this image, and the successors: his/her son Jean-Michel Cousteau and his grandson Fabien Cousteau on a side, the Cousteau Team with his third wife Francine Cousteau and his children of the other, suffer from a fall of notoriety compared to the Cousteau Team of the 20th century.
On the other hand, the kind that Jacques-Yves Cousteau launched, the environmental underwater film and of adventure, goes better than ever: each year appear hundreds of documentaries increasingly beautiful (improvement of photographic techniques not ceasing), and the idea of the fragile Planet Sea and to preserve, diffused not only in the opinion, but up to the political circles who were less the environmentalists in the beginning.
Cousteau liked to call himself an "oceanographic technician." He was, in reality, a sophisticated showman, teacher, and lover of nature. His work permitted many people to explore the resources of the oceans.
His work also created a new kind of scientific communication, criticised at the time by some academics. The so-called "divulgationism", a simple way of sharing scientific concepts, was soon employed in other disciplines and became one of the most important characteristics of modern TV broadcasting.
Cousteau died on 25 June 1997. The Cousteau Society and its French counterpart, l'Équipe Cousteau, both of which Jacques-Yves Cousteau founded, are still active today. The Society is currently attempting to turn the original Calypso into a museum and it is raising funds to build a successor vessel, the Calypso II.
In his last years, after marrying again, Cousteau became involved in a legal battle with his son Jean-Michel over Jean-Michel licensing the Cousteau name for a Caribbean resort, resulting in Jean-Michel Cousteau being ordered by the court not to encourage confusion between his for-profit business and his father's non-profit endeavours.
In 2007 International Watch Co introduced the IWC Aquatimer Chronograph 'Cousteau Divers' Special Edition. The timepiece incorporated a sliver of wood from the interior of Cousteau's Calypso research vessel. Having developed the diver's watch, IWC offered support to The Cousteau Society. The proceeds from the timepieces' sales were partially donated to the non-profit organization involved into conservation of marine life and preservation of tropical coral reefs.
Books about Cousteau