Christian's Journal

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Jacques-Yves Cousteau – a Biography

I chose Jacques Cousteau for my biography character for a class book report.

I read both Jacques Cousteau, A Life Under the Sea, by Catherine Olmstead and Jacques Cousteau, The Sea King, by Brad Matsen. I also researched on Wikipedia and for more information. I chose this character because I also love the ocean, and Jacques’ life and accomplishments inspire me. Jacques Cousteau was an explorer, filmmaker, inventor, researcher and ecologist and a french Navy officer. He explored and documented the oceans and all the life forms that lived in them. He pioneered many important underwater technologies like the aqualung and “pioneered ocean conservation” (Wikipedia). His diligence, courage and passion for filmmaking and the oceans drove him to make two important contributions to the world. One, his inventions greatly enhanced oceanography, (and he gave us the sport of scuba diving). Two, through his films and books he gave the widest possible audience access to knowledge of the oceans.

Jacques Cousteau was born on June 11th, 1910. During his youth and school career, Cousteau began to make short films with his handheld camera. He went to a strict military high school and later the French Naval Academy, after which he was in the French Navy. He was appointed to the rank of Captain, and yearning to fly, he then entered flight school. Just before graduating, he had a terrible car accident that ended his flying career. He was sent to the South of France, Toulon, to recover from his injuries.

He met another French Navy Officer, Phillip Talliez, during his recovery,. Talliez was a skin diver and encouraged Cousteau to swim to strengthen his injured arm. It was Talliez who handed Cousteau a mask to open his eyes under water. This changed Cousteau’s life forever. Later Cousteau recalls, “It happened to me that summers’ day, when my eyes were finally opened on the sea.” would become one of his diving friends and collaborators in his work and on his adventures. He also met Fredric Dumas, another skin diver, and together they called themselves the “sea musketeers”. The three men experimented with ways to breathe under water and make films under water. During this time, Jacques also married Simone Melchoir. They would later have 2 sons, the whole family would be involved in Cousteau’s work.

As WWII broke out in Europe, the sea musketeers were still busy experimenting with diving equipment and underwater photography. The enemy thought they were crazy fisherman and generally left them alone. They aided the “French Resistance”. During this time Cousteau began working on the “aqualung” with an engineer named Emile Gagnon. Finally, in 1943, it was perfected with 3 cylinders of compressed air. With the aqualung, the musketeers took more than 500 dives in one summer and reached a depth of 210 feet. With this aqualung, and some advances they had made in underwater filming, the group made a film about sunken ships.

At the end of the war, Cousteau took the film to the Navy to convince them about the importance of underwater research and diving. The Navy commissioned a group called the Undersea Research Group (URG) and made Cousteau head of the group. The URG was created to find underwater mines and look for sunken warships. With the URG, Cousteau finally had all the underwater equipment he needed to explore more than just the water in front of the South of France. But after a few years, even the URG’s explorations seemed small.

He took a leave of absence from the Navy and “leased” the Calypso from Sir Loel Guinness for 1 French franc a year. Guinness agreed to fund Cousteau’s expeditions because Cousteau vowed to share what he learned with the world. Cousteau outfitted Calypso with the latest instruments and diving equipment. He even built a “false nose” so people could view the ocean without even diving in the ocean. Some of the expeditions took them as far away as Antarctica. They also filmed The Silent World, which won many awards including an Academy Award for best documentary. The film was based on a book with the same name that he had written during the war. He finally left the Navy and joined Monaco’s Oceanographic Institute as Director, to make the Institute shine again. With the help of the Institute, Cousteau created the Sea Flea and the SP-500, both research submarines. He made a TV show called the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau that ran for nine years and was seen by millions of people around the world.

Cousteau began filming the oceans to show their beauty and richness. But he found lots of damage and destruction from humans. He reported in Time Magazine in 1970, that “… we have been dumping great quantities of waste into it [the sea] as if it were an exhaustible bounty and a sewer’. He created the Cousteau society to raise awareness of pollution in the ocean. He used the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau to teach the world about what a fragile place the ocean is. Jacques Cousteau died on June 10th, 1997. His family carries on his mission with the Cousteau Society.

What Impact did my character have on the World ?

My character’s technical innovations contributed a great deal to modern oceanography and scuba diving and his filmmaking significantly changed the world’s perception of the oceans.  Jacques Cousteau was a great pioneer in underwater technologies.  From the aqualung to Calypso and underwater research submarines, he started it all.  He and his team were able to explore the oceans like no-one had ever done before.  Their innovations and research helped oceanographers around the world with their work.

Cousteau was a pioneer to show the world the beauty and fragility of the oceans. Through his writing and his filmmaking, he brought the secrets and awareness of the sea to the broad public, and enabled the public to see for themselves.  With his aqualung, which today is called scuba, people and scientists could learn about the secrets of the ocean for themselves!  Without Jacques Cousteau, many of the ocean’s secrets, beauty and fragility might still be unknown today.


What important character traits did my subject have, Which one do you admire most?

Cousteau had many important character traits that helped make him successful.  He was passionate about the sea.  He wanted to learn from it, and he wanted to help it and everything in it. He was very determined to explore and share the secrets of the sea, also to create the technologies to do so, including underwater filming and the underwater breathing device and much more. He was brave to help his limp friend get out of a narrow shaft 150 feet down in a dangerous cave and to dive deep into the ocean himself, and he was inventive, because he invented many things (the aqualung , the submarines, a better mask),  To me, his determination was the the most admirable because he had to try and fail and try again with many of his experiments and most people would have just given up.  Jacques Cousteau is my aquatic hero!


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