From an early age Jacques-Yves-Cousteau was attracted to the ocean and invention, two things which would make him legendary in the fields of science and film. Even though he was a sickly boy, Cousteau’s favorite hobby was to swim because as he put it, “Water fascinated me.” He took to inventing a small crane and a small battery-operated car by the time he was a teenager. And his curious mind eventually lead him to a collaboration with French engineer Emile Gagnan to invent what we know today as the Aqua-lung. However, what really brought the world to the attention of Jacques-Cousteau was his films.
In his life, he won two Academy Awards for the extraordinary documentaries he filmed on his own ship “Calypso” with his crew. His documentary “The Silent World” (1956) took nearly two years to film in the Mediterranean Sea. The film faced criticism because the self-proclaimed “I make love to the ocean” Cousteau was shown using unconventional and seemingly heartless methods in the film. One example is when Cousteau and his crew are shown killing a school of sharks who are naturally drawn to the body of a dead whale. In the same film, Cousteau was shown using dynamite to blow up a part of the Mediterranean sea. “The Silent World” also won the Cannes Palm d’Or award the same year when it premiered at the 1956 Cannes Festival. It stood as the only documentary to win the award until forty-eight years later when Michael Moore won the award for his controversial political documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11" (2004).
In 1964, his documentary “World Without Sun” won Cousteau another Oscar. “World Without Sun”was a different conceptual approach to Cousteau’s theme of conservation. In “World Without Sun,” six oceanauts lived thirty-three feet underwater in the Red Sea for thirty days. Symbolically, the documentary could represent humanity living as one with ocean life.
It was in 1968 when Cousteau’s underwater world of majesty was brought to the public by an even larger invention – television. The ABC network company approached Cousteau and wanted him to produce a television series which was eventually titled “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.” The second television series titled “The Cousteau Odyssesy,” ran for one season and was an 8-part series dedicated to informing viewers about how important the Mediterranean was at risk of being lost forever.
In 1997, Jacques Cousteau passed away at the age of 87. However, the Cousteau Society is very active today in keeping Cousteau’s legacy alive. The society has exceeded 300,000 members. The society is currently turning the original “Calypso” ship into a museum amongst its many efforts to protect and preserve the ocean.