11 June 1910 – 25 June 1997
Diving Hero and real life Action Man
The images of Jacques Cousteau and his famous "Calypso" touring around the world investigating wrecks and finding exotic sea life has fuelled the dreams of thousands, if not millions, of people.
Cousteau called himself an “oceanographic technician” but was so much more leaving over 50 books and 120 TV documentaries telling of his amazing life spanning two World Wars.
Born to French parents and spending some of his childhood in America, Cousteau was already bi-lingual when he enrolled in the Ecole Navale in 1930. He graduated as a gunnery officer but had his hopes of a career in naval aviation dashed following an automobile accident. The Ocean had always fascinated him so, denied of flying, he decided to go deep.
During a distinguished naval career, Cousteau was often sent abroad on missions to gather information. Between the Wars he helped to develop the aqua-lung, inventing the technology we still use today, while starting his film career. In the Second World War, Cousteau was invited to set up "Groupement de Recherches Sous-marines" - GRS, the Underwater Research Group of the French Navy in Toulon, which in modern times has evolved into the CEPHISMER. Underwater exploration, mine clearance, scientific testing, information gathering and equipment development were all included in his remit.
He had many adventures and was, for example, involved in the rescue of the FRNS-2 (bathyscaphe) which enabled the French Navy to reuse the vessel and develop the FRNS-3.
His fascination of wrecks and love of film never left him. In between missions he gathered an expedition and filmed the exploration of the Roman wreck of Mahdia in Tunisia, using his aqua-lung thus revolutionising the world of underwater archaeology.
In 1949 Cousteau left the Navy and founded the French Oceanographic Campaigns (FOC) in 1950 using the now famous 'Calypso' as his scientific and film headquarters.
Passionate about all things marine, a lover of nature and a keen scientist, Cousteau's mission was to bring the marvels of the ocean into homes and develop a public awareness of the sea. In one memorial occasion he prevented the dumping of radioactive waste in the Mediterranean by rallying amazing public support in only two weeks.
Cousteau was a gifted teacher and broadcaster, developing a new style called "divulgationism", which simply explains scientific concepts and has become the accepted style of modern day television documentaries.
As well as his extensive media legacy, Cousteau founded the Cousteau Society for the Protection of Ocean Life, which now, headed by his wife Francine, has over 300,000 members.
During his life he received many distinctions including the National Geographic Societies Special Gold Medal (1961) and the US Presidential Medal of Freedom (1985).
The Cousteau Foundation are currently attempting to turn the original Calypso into a museum and plan to build Calypso 2.