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Jacques Cousteau: Explorer of the secrets of seas

By Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By HT Correspondent,

This French naval officer made many undersea explorations, published research-based books, invented photographic equipment and won three Oscars for his documentaries.

Jacques Cousteau‘s 90-minute underwater film based on his book The Silent World won the Palm d’Or at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award in 1957.(Illustration: Mohit Suneja)

Born on June 11, 1910 in Saint-André-de-Cubzac, Gironde, France, to Daniel and Élisabeth Cousteau, Jacques completed preparatory studies in Paris. Jacques studied at the Holy Name School, Manhattan. In 1923, he attended a boarding school in Alsace, France. After completing college, he joined the French Naval Academy at Brest. In 1930, he graduated as a gunnery officer. Later he joined an aviation academy as he wanted to be a naval pilot.

Naval officer, inventor

During World War II, Cousteau was appointed as gunnery officer aboard the French cruiser Dupleix. That was when he got the chance to experiment with his underwater diving and photographic equipment. He realised that the standard diving gear had limitations as the diver remained tied to the ship, thus restricting his movements. He began working with Émile Gagnan, an engineer, in 1937. They developed a device with two tanks of compressed air, a mouthpiece, a hose and an automatic regulator that provided air on demand. In 1943, the prototype was patented as the aqua-lung. Impressed by the work, the French naval authorities commissioned Cousteau to assist in clearing mines from French harbours and helped him to continue his research.


In 1952, Cousteau and his team earned fame when they found a wrecked treasure-filled Roman ship named Mahdia near the southern coast of Grand-Congloué. It was the first underwater archaeology operation. The publication of his book titled The Silent World immensely added to his rising eminence. He and his team developed a diving saucer, DS-2, that was a navigable, small submarine which helped in the studies of deep-sea life. In 1957, he was appointed director of the Oceanographic Institute and Museum of Monaco. His other important inventions include the Sea Spider, a multi-armed diagnostic device that analysed the biochemical composition of the ocean surface, high-tech wind sails, known as Turbosails. He set up a non-profit environmental group, the Cousteau Society, which has over 300,000 members.


The Silent World, a book based on his daily logs, was published in 22 languages and sold more than five million copies all over the world. His written works included eight volumes of the Undersea Discovery series and 21 volumes of the Ocean World encyclopedia series. He produced more than 115 TV films and wrote 50 books. His well-known books include The Shark: Splendid Savage of the Sea (1970), Dolphins (1975), and Jacques Cousteau: The Ocean World (1985). His 90-minute underwater film based on his book The Silent World won the Palm d’Or at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award in 1957. In 1961, US President John F. Kennedy awarded him the Special Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society but was just one among many awards.

Personal life

Cousteau married Simone Melchior in 1937 and the couple had sons Jean-Michel and Philippe, who joined their father in his undersea expeditions. Cousteau died of a cardiac arrest on June 25, 1997, in Paris at the age of 87.


1. Jacques Cousteau learnt to swim when he was four years old. He developed a special liking for mechanical things at a very early age and even built a model of a marine crane when he was just 11 years old.

2. An automobile accident in 1933, cut short his naval aviation career. Cousteau then chose to become a naval pilot. He indulged his passion for the ocean leading to his association with oceans and oceanic life.

3. Jacques Cousteau had bought a US minesweeper, named Calypso, in the year 1950. Calypso’s first expedition to the Red Sea resulted in a number of discoveries of unknown species of plants and animals and volcanic basins beneath the Red Sea. Calypso undertook a 13,800-mile journey in 1955. During the expedition, Cousteau filmed the movie version of his book The Silent World which won him awards and accolades.

4. In 1980, Cousteau produced TV programmes on the greater St. Lawrence waters followed by the 1984 Cousteau Amazon series. Cousteau/Mississippi: The Reluctant Ally won Emmy Award in the mid-1980s.

Source: wikipedia,,,

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