Jacques Cousteau

Jacques Cousteau from Blane Peruns TheSea.Org
Credit: BBC UK



Jacques Cousteau was born in 1910 and lived for 87 years, dying of a heart attack 1997. Being a researcher was one of the many things that he was, among a French naval officer, a filmmaker, a scientist, a photographer, author and many others.

Jacques Cousteau entered the Ecole Navale in 1930 and became a gunnery officer after graduation. His interest towards the sea came after an accident he had, which shortened his career in naval aviation. His first underwater experiences were carried out in 1936, when he was borrowed some underwater goggles from his friend, Phillippe Tailliez. After the World War II, Cousteau became friends with Marcel Ichac, who had also a passion about experimenting the unknown – not the depths, however, as Jacques did, but the heights, the mountains. They made a few documentary films and, in one of them, they used two of the very first Aqua-Lung prototypes. The Aqua-Lung was the first open-circuit, self-contained underwater breathing apparatus that had commercial success and gained world-wide popularity. Cousteau gets credit for improving the Aqua-Lung, which later gave birth to the version known today as an open-circuit scuba.

In the 1950’s, Cousteau founded the so called French Oceanographic Campaigns. In 1953, he publishes his first book called The Silent World, in which he predicts that porpoises have an echolocation ability. In 1956, he wins the Palm d’Or with the documentary made after this book, at the Cannes Film Festival. In the following year he gets elected as the director of the Oceanographical Museum of Monaco and gets admitted to the United States Academy of Science. In the next few years he writes several other books, he gets a TV series which runs for ten years, named The Undersea world of Jacque Cousteau. After this series was stopped he had another one running for another five years called The Cousteau Odyssey.
He gets plenty of acknowledgements during his life. One of them is the Presidential Medal of Freedom which he gets from Ronald Reagan in 1985. Another one would be the title of one of Jean Michel Jarre’s album, named Waiting for Cousteau, after the artist had composed music for one of his documentaries. Jacques Cousteau dies of a heart attack in 1997, at the age of 87, and is buried in a Romanian Catholic funeral, despite the rumors that he had been converted to Islam.

Jacques Cousteau Accomplishments

Jacques Cousteau Accomplishments, Marine Oceanographers
Credit: Cousteau Society

Even though the French Navy was initially the greatest dream of young Jacques Cousteau, accomplishments beyond his comprehension awaited him later in life, after a car accident crippled him and put an end to his military career. The intelligent young man went on to become a legendary explorer, inventor and oceanographer who pioneered modern underwater photography and breathing devices, became one of the first conservationists, and created several award-winning documentaries about life beneath the sea.

Cousteau’s accomplishments that have led to an easier, longer and more convenient diving experience for professional divers included the development of the aqualung, depth-pressure-proof underwater cameras, the first mini-submersible to reach depths of more than 400 meters and much more. According to his first book, The Silent World, Cousteau claims to have developed and used the first prototype for the aqualung when he improved a Le Prieur apparatus to extend the amount of time he could use it underwater. The successful experiment eventually led to the mass production of aqualung devices that are still the basis of modern diving today.

Cousteau was the first to predict the use of echolocation by porpoises and cetaceans in the early 1950s. In 1957 he took over the Oceanographer Museum in Monaco, after having successfully reached a depth of 350 meters with his revolutionary “diving saucer” submersible (in 1965 he extended that record to 500 meters). Cousteau also contributed to the creation of Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques, serving as its president for two years. Probably his greatest accomplishment as a conservationist was the creation of the Cousteau Society for the Protection of Ocean Life in 1973. The Oceanographer also received several symbolic awards for his distinguished career, such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan.

One of the first and most notable – from a historical point of view – Jacques Cousteau accomplishments was the ex-aequo prize of the Congress of Documentary Film awarded for the first ever French underwater film: 18 Meters Deep. This achievement inspired Cousteau and helped him establish his drive toward documenting the underwater world and making some of the finest movies in history, including the Carnets diving film (1951), The Silent World (1956) – winning the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival – and the popular “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau,” a successful series that aired for more than a decade. For Jacques Cousteau, accomplishments such as these meant far less than the legacy and body of knowledge he left behind after his death in 1997; however, they remain testaments to the dedication and talent of a recognized and distinguished scientist.

Jacques Cousteau Aqualung

Jacques Cousteau Aqualung, Marine Oceanographers
Credit: Cousteau Society

The Jacques Cousteau Aqualung has been a topic of debate in expert and amateur diving communities for more than fifty years. This self-regulating underwater breathing equipment was first designed by Jacques Cousteau and his partner, French engineer Emile Gagnan, in the winter of 1942-1943, while Cousteau was a French Naval Officer during the 2nd World War. Cousteau and Gagnan patented the technology which was later to become the most widely used diving regulator in the world.

Aqualung’s technology as we know it today was fully developed in the 1960s, when the French oceanographer perfected and used it for diving exploration aboard his vessel, the Calypso. Today, the aqualung is simply known as a common diving regulator or demand valve and is an indispensable part of a diver’s equipment. The early aqualung was based on a patent developed by Benoît Rouquayrol in 1860 and the 1925 compressed air device developed by Captain Yves Le Prieur. Like its predecessor, it was initially intended to help divers breathe more efficiently underwater, but with a clear advantage: the aqualung solved the problem of continuous airflow limiting the amount of time divers could stay submerged. The patent was registered in 1943, and became known as a significant engineering breakthrough.

Further improved after the end of the War by Jacques Cousteau, aqualung devices made it possible for divers to spend more than an hour underwater – a feat impossible with the traditional devices used before 1945. Aqualung devices were much lighter and easier to carry, allowing divers to use more potent tanks able to carry up to 200 atmospheres of pressure. The aqualung became a commercial success, and in 1956 they were the main breathing devices used by divers during the filming of Cousteau’s “The Silent World,” allowing Cousteau and his Divers to explore and film underwater more freely. The task was further made easy by the development of several new types of underwater cameras that Cousteau also had a hand in adapting.

While the original aqualung was an open-circuit design that allowed air to flow directly to the diver from the cylinder, most previous breathing devices were closed-circuit, using a scrubber to remove CO2 and an apparatus that fed the air back to the diver through a loop – also known as a “rebreather” circuit. While rebreathers are still being used today, most open-circuit breathing devices developed in the present are based on the Jacques Cousteau aqualung, including modern SCUBA regulators designed for deep ocean exploration.

Jacques Cousteau Calypso

Jacques Cousteau Calypso, Marine Oceanographers
Credit: Cousteau Society

When it comes to the research, discoveries and accomplishments of Jacques Cousteau, Calypso, his famed research vessel, is often mentioned as the well-known oceanographer’s most prized possession. The RV Calypso was a vessel rented by Jacques-Yves Cousteau in July of 1950, and was a symbol for ocean exploration throughout the next four decades. Cousteau fitted the Calypso with advanced equipment used ultimately for undersea exploration in most of the major waters of the world, including Singapore, Malaysia, the Amazon River and the coldest regions of Antarctica.

Named after the Greek Nymph who, according to legend, held Ulysses captive for ten years on the island of Gonzo, the RV Calypso was initially a Mark 1 Class Minesweeper used in WW2 as a loan from the United States to the Royal British Navy. It was laid down in August 1941 and decommissioned in 1946, after which it was struck from the US Naval Registrar and remained in Malta. When British millionaire Thomas Loel Guinness leased it to Jacques Cousteau, Calypso had been converted into a ferry. In 1950, when the transaction – which involved the payment of a single symbolic Franc per year, and implied Cousteau kept his silence regarding Guinness’ involvement – was completed, the oceanographer began fitting it with advanced underwater filming and diving equipment, aiming to transform it into an underwater research vessel.

Calypso soon became a household name as it appeared in The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, a documentary series that ran between 1966 and 1976. Cousteau used the ship to explore the seas, utilizing innovations like its underwater observation chamber to search for the secrets of the underwater world. It was a basis for scientific explorations, research, documentaries and studies that changed the way scientists see the ocean. The ship remains a testament to Cousteau’s achievements and explorations, as well as a symbol of hope for humanity’s environmental preservation efforts.

The Calypso was sunk in the waters of Singapore by a barge on January the 8th, 1996, and it took more than 17 days to retrieve it. The ship was raised by a 230-foot crane, pumped dry and repaired before being transported to a nearby shipyard. After Cousteau’s death a year later, the ship was left to gather dust in a French shipyard for almost two decades. Its return was announced at the beginning of 2016, as the Cousteau Society claimed they had found new sponsors for the vessel’s complete repair and restoration. A living tribute to Jacques Cousteau, Calypso is now undergoing repairs and changes, as the Cousteau Society announced it would take up to 18 months before it would be made ready.

Jacques Cousteau Discoveries

Jacques Cousteau Discoveries, Marine Oceanographers
Credit: Cousteau Society

When it comes to Jacques Cousteau, discoveries associated with the deep ocean automatically come to mind. Cousteau’s revolutionary development of inventions, like the Aqualung and new underwater photography equipment designed to maximize the practical use of light on the seabed, have allowed the French explorer to discover many new species of fish, corals and marine mammals, conduct studies and observations regarding their behavior, and shoot documentaries that have changed the world’s view of underwater life throughout the last 46 years of his life and career. In 1962, Cousteau even developed the first undersea laboratory ever built – the Conshelf 1.

With the new scientific and engineering breakthroughs achieved by Jacques Cousteau, amazing discoveries were possible beneath the surface of the ocean, which could not have been dreamed of by early explorers. Cousteau was one of the first people to determine dolphins used sonar-like communications. He also captured never before seen footage of swimming nautiluses, an elusive, nocturnal species of underwater creatures. Cousteau was also the first oceanographer to build an underwater “village” – the Conshelf 2 – which was an undersea dwelling place equipped with a submarine garage, stores and advanced equipment responsible for many of the explorer’s deep ocean findings.

Some of the most important discoveries unlocking the secrets of the ocean are Jacques Cousteau’s archaeological finds. In 1959, the oceanographer’s use of his then new submersible apparatus allowed him the freedom to explore the bottom of the world’s major oceans in unprecedented detail. He was, however, one of the first explorers to retrieve sunken treasure from ancient Roman ships and vessels belonging to other cultures since 1955, when he began filming his documentary, The Sunken World. Cousteau’s drive toward finding sunken ships also led him to the discovery of important WW2 vessels like the Thistlegorm – a British military vessel filled with historically important military equipment that was sunk in 1941.

Although it isn’t a discovery that was made at the bottom of the ocean, the Aqualung is based on some of Jacques Cousteau’s most significant finds. This device was an early self-contained underwater breathing apparatus – the first one of its time that had regulated airflow, allowing divers to explore deeper than ever before. The aqualung was first developed by Cousteau in 1943 and used for mine clearance. Later – after World War II was over – it became one of the most significant Jacques Cousteau discoveries to be used for undersea exploration and the discovery of sunken treasure.

Jacques Cousteau Diving Saucer

Jacques Cousteau Diving Saucer, Marine Oceanographers
Credit: Cousteau Society

The Jacques Cousteau diving saucer is a unique type of diving technology invented and built by famous French oceanographer and explorer Jacques Cousteau in 1959. First used during his explorations aboard the Calypso at the end of the 1950s and early 1960s, it represented a small, saucer-shaped submarine capable of carrying up to two divers and reaching depths of about 400 meters. The official name of the diving saucer was SP-350 Denise, and the submarine was initially developed, tested and fine-tuned by Cousteau together with French engineer Jean Mollard.

One of the crowning achievements of Jacques Cousteau, the saucer was designed to counter the immense undersea pressures at depths of more than 1,000 feet, where divers could not reach by themselves using regular breathing equipment. This mini-submersible had a saucer shape with a diameter of 2.85 meters, and weighed about 3.5 tons due to its resilient steel hull. The design uses a simple and efficient jet propulsion system and a construction that allows the submersible to move like a squid. The small ship also used an electrically operated arm that allowed divers to pick up and interact with objects, examining them through the portholes.

The Jacques Cousteau diving saucer became a highly efficient means of conducting significant underwater research. The saucer was capable of a speed of 2 knots – or about 3.7 km/h – and was relatively easy to maneuver. Although it was capable of withstanding a pressure of up to 1,300 psi, equivalent to a depth of more than 900 meters, for safety reasons, Cousteau rarely allowed his divers to exceed depths of 300 meters. If the depth was beneath 100 meters and the divers were geared up with proper breathing equipment, they could easily abandon the Denise and swim up to the surface – in cases of extreme necessity.

Denise was designed to be positively buoyant and weighted down to negative buoyancy using ballast weights that can quickly be jettisoned in an emergency. The technology was groundbreaking at the time, especially since it allowed for the weights to be adjusted to the contents of the sub’s equipment. The onboard equipment regularly included a radio, two special underwater cameras, a tape recorder and a lighting system consisting of three adjustable independent lamps that could be moved into position to illuminate specific areas and objects at accurate angles. The Jacques Cousteau diving saucer remains to this day a pioneer in advanced diving technology as well as the first mini-submarine used for oceanographic exploration.

Jacques Cousteau Mission 31

Jacques Cousteau Mission 31, Marine Oceanographers
Credit: NOAA

When thinking of Jacques Cousteau, Mission 31 is a good example of how the famous French oceanographer influenced his peers and his grandson, Fabien. After developing his award-winning film in 1964, World Without Sun, Jacques Cousteau inspired his grandson, Fabien, to organize Mission 31. Mission 31 was an undersea expedition conducted in 2014 that aimed for Fabien Cousteau and 6 other crew members to spend 31 days in an underwater facility (the Aquarius lab located in the Florida Keys). The expedition was a success, and the team performed many lengthy dives, also conducting scientific studies and observations, and retrieving vital IMAX footage.

Without Jacques Cousteau, Mission 31 could not have existed. The explorer’s grandson, Fabien Cousteau, spent most of his early years aboard his grandfather’s ships, Calypso and Alcyone. He learned how to scuba dive at the age of 4, and, as he grew up, he became a skilled diver and explorer, working on several projects for National Geographic and CBS. Four years after his multi-hour series, Ocean Adventures, ended, Fabien became a legend worthy of his grandfather. On June the 1st 2014 he and his team organized Mission 31, and managed to gather two years’ worth of vital scientific data in just over a month.

Mission 31 became Fabien Cousteau’s way of retracing his grandfather’s steps 50 years later. The Aquarius underwater facility was built 63 feet below the surface of the sea, and was pressurized, air-conditioned, while even offering wireless internet access. The equipment aboard the facility was extensive, and allowed the crew members to conduct regular dives. Their objectives were to monitor the animal life at the bottom of the sea, including plankton, octopus, sponges, starfish, rays and reef sharks.

With advanced cameras, minuscule probes installed on the reef itself and sonar cameras that were designed not to disturb the local wildlife, the results obtained were impressive. Although none of them had performed saturation diving in the past, Fabien Cousteau and his team led the mission to success, diving in some cases nine hours at a time to collect more data in the allotted time frame, and even observe the underwater creatures during the night. A true testament to the efforts of Jacques Cousteau, Mission 31 gathered enough data for 10 scientific papers, while actively raising awareness about the importance of marine life preservation.

Jacques Cousteau Top Ten Scuba Diving Sites

Jacques Cousteau Top Ten Scuba Diving Sites, Marine Oceanographers
Credit; The Silent World, 1956

When composing a Jacques Cousteau top ten, there are many scuba diving sites in the world that most oceanographers, naturalists, marine biologists and explorers would consider. In the following are ten of the most scientifically and historically significant diving sites where Cousteau made one or more of his famous discoveries and which will provide you with an amazing experience while exploring them.

1. Diving Near Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island boasts 17,000 miles of shoreline and temperate waters housing sharks, seals, wolf eels, sea lions and many other unique species. Cousteau said about Vancouver Island that it’s second only to the Red Sea as an ideal diving location.

2. Sipadan – A Pristine Diving Site

Malaysia’s Sipadan Island turned famous in the 80s, when it became the filming site for Cousteau’s “Ghost of the Sea Turtles.” The area features more than 3,000 marine species and corals you can explore during your dives.

3. The Aliwal Shoals – The Most Unique Reef in the World

The Aliwal Shoals in South Africa are one of Jacques Cousteau’s favorite reef formations – a unique fossilized sand dune reef where hammerheads, potato bass and stingrays can be seen every season.

4. One of Jacques Cousteau’s Favorite – Poor Knights Island

The abundant marine life, clear waters and the presence of the world’s largest sea cave influenced Cousteau to rate these islands among his worldwide favorite diving sites.

5. Red Sea Diving in Sudan

Sha’b Rumi is a 30-mile diving site in Sudan where you can spot plenty of sharks, barracuda and jacks. Cousteau started his Conshef experiments here in 1963.

6. Diving Sites on Cocos Island, Costa Rica

Cocos Island is about 550 km off the coast of Costa Rica and is now a national park. The area arose Jacques Cousteau’s interest due to its nutrient-rich waters and large, pelagic marine species.

7. The World’s Strangest Sinkhole in Belize

The Blue Hole in Belize is a perfectly circular sinkhole measuring almost 300 meters across, believed to have been a cave whose roof fell in. The hole is 124m deep and commonly visited by gray reef sharks.

8. Thailand’s Top Dive Site at Richelieu Rock

Sponges, soft corals, anemones and many other creatures populate the horseshoe-shaped diving location known as Richelieu Rock. Huge groupers, mantas and whale sharks can also be spotted here.

9. Diving on Conzumel Island in Mexico

Situated off the Yucatan Peninsula, Conzumel is a small island with most diving sites on its west side. There are two protected reef systems, and the steady currents make it a perfect spot for drift diving.

10. Cousteau’s Discoveries Near Heron Island, in Australia

Visiting Heron Island, Cousteau discovered the full diversity of the Great Barrier Reef on an island only 800 meters long and 300 meters wide. There are more than 20 diving sites around the island, and you can expect to see sharks, barracuda, lobsters and hawksbill turtles along with stunning corals.

Whale in Ocean