Ever since the publication of his first book titled “The Silent World” in 1953 Jacques Yves Cousteau has generated multiple waves of inspiration worldwide. A documentary produced under the same title won the prestigious Palm d’Or award at Cannes Film Festival in 1956. This is a rare achievement among nature documentaries. Cousteau’s second big hit arrived in 1965 with another production titled World Without Sun documenting activities of six crew members living in Continental Shelf Station II at 10m depth for 30 days in Red Sea. The undersea colony was the forerunner of other experiments such as Biosphere2 or Mars500.
Cousteau invented and developed the first diving regulator called CG-45 together with Émile Gagnan in 1945. CG-45 was the precursor of the self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) used by divers today. The invention paved the way to a multi-billion dollar diving industry. In 2003 tropical reef-based diving alone circulated 9.6 billion dollars globally.
Cousteau’s famous motto was “Il faut aller voir” (“We must go and see for ourselves.”) Even though he was not a scientist, Cousteau introduced life on board a research vessel right into the living room of every household. He started a new tradition of story telling. His famed ship Calypso carried state of the art equipment (underwater cameras, side-scanning sonar, a helicopter, a crane arm to launch diving saucer etc).
Underwater archeology greatly benefited from Cousteau’s diving technology. One remarkable feat of discovery was the late bronze age Uluburun shipwreck off the Mediterranean coast of Turkey which is regarded as the oldest and most informative shipreck in our time. Between 1984 to 1994 archeologists logged 22,413 dives surveying and excavating the diverse cargo of the ship from 19 civilizations. All would have been impossible without Cousteau’s pioneering contribution.
Thanks to the National Filmboard of Canada we can still get a taste of Cousteau’s filmmaking. Cries From the Deep (Les Pièges de la mer) has all the elements described above. Probably the most remarkable scene is the rescue of Yuki. Two divers from Calypso work hard to free a young humpback whale calf from the heavy fishing net it has tangled. The Calypso team has come a long way since their first documentary in terms of human emotions during story telling. The footage captures poetically the expression of fear, panic, exhaustion and helplessness in the eye of the calf. In order to cut the nets they first had to calm down the large animal. It is a very touching sequence to watch the interaction of two mammal species diverged from each other at least a 100 million years ago during the Cretaceous period and yet show quite similar emotions.