Underwater wildlife, action shots, and sweeping score: that intro knows how to grab you! Fortunately, the ensuing content does not disappoint. In fact, the many recorded adventures of the Cousteau family remain timeless and stand alongside the highest quality nature documentaries today.
Speaking of today, this day specifically is the 108th birthday of Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Cousteau’s extensive list of accomplishments highlight how the man lived his life to the max – essentially cramming the equivalent of 87 lifetimes into his 87 years on Earth. Best known as an ocean conservationist, nature filmmaker, and the co-inventor of the Aqua-lung (the first SCUBA device as we know it today), Jacques Cousteau was a truly incredible man. A personal hero of mine since I was a kid, he is the reason I wanted to be a marine biologist when I grew up. Of course, Cousteau’s influence stretches across so many involved in so much as the man did so much and shared his discoveries with the rest of the world so well. Cousteau, and especially his wife, Simone, knew how to harbor help on funding their expeditions, which they filmed and showed to the rest of the world to show us all another world we’d previously only seen the surface of. Separate, but deeply connected to us, the Cousteaus provided us the necessary glimpse into the waterways we take for granted so that we can recognize how urgently and greatly we must work to save them.
For a fuller look at Jacques Cousteau’s grand life, swim over to this SciShow segment from last year:
There is so much that has been said about Jacques Cousteau, including by me. If you want more of that, then hop in your time machine and take yourself back to my grade school living wax museum project where I stood in a hot gym in a thick, purple wetsuit while clinging my plush movie official Jaws great white shark. As much as I love the man, I’ve covered his life fairly extensively so far in my own. However, there is one aspect of Jacques Cousteau’s life that I want to emphasize as it is easily the most important, yet is often glossed over by most casual biographies. The most important thing for Monsieur Cousteau was the other Monsieur Cousteau – his son, Philippe.
Jacques Cousteau had four children in his life, two with Simone, and later two with his second wife, Francine. His sons, Jean-Michel and Philippe grew up practically underwater, and they helped their father on his many odysseys from the beginning. While Jean-Michel has since followed in his father’s finstrokes in managing a number of conservation projects and films (including convincing then-U.S. President George W. Bush to create what was at the time the largest protected space in the world,) he and his famous father were never quite on the same wavelength. Disagreements on how to keep the Cousteau ship sailing – well, organization running, but a sailing ship is literally part of that – not to mention a lawsuit over the use of the Cousteau name at a resort of Jean-Michel’s making led to some rough moments in their relationship.
Such was not the case with Jacques and his younger son, Philippe. Philippe (an early contender for the look of “World’s Most Interesting Man”) was so attached to his father when he was a child that he would be right behind Jacques when working and wading into the water even before he could swim! Like older brother, Jean-Michel, Philippe’s interests went beyond the water, and he became trained as a pilot, a skill which would prove extremely handy for the pair when as they worked together to make films. The means to travel and explore were expanded by Philippe’s adept aviation skills, yet flying would be his doom as well. On a flight check in Portugal in 1979, the plane Philippe was flying malfunctioned and crashed. He was 38 years old.
But the legacy lived on. Philippe stated that he perceived the Cousteau expeditions not simply as adventures for the sake of the fantastic, but as a means to bring the watery side of the world to the millions who could not see it as the Cousteaus were lucky enough to. This mission that he served as an integral member of (he was the chief cinematographer on most of the films) went on long after his death. It is continued today by his brother, and by his own children, Alexandra and Philippe Jr.
Here is a clip from a BBC documentary where Philippe Jr. visits the remnants Conshelf Station that served as an extensive experiment to see if humans could live a submarine lifestyle, as well as studying the effects of longer-term time spent underwater. While the research and brave exploration were the intent of the structures and their experiment, the letter that Philippe Jr. reads shows the love that a father had for his son.
Thanks for reading and watching. I hope you made the most of your World Oceans Day (June 8), but whether you are an active ocean conservationist like the Cousteaus, of if you’ve never heard of World Oceans Day until now, I encourage you to respect all our waterways and treat everyday as a day for the water around you, for as Jacques and his sons and grandchildren have shown, it’s an amazing, yet fragile watery world we live in, and it’s worth saving. Minimize your plastic consumption, hug your children often, and float back here next week for more.