Scientist. A world-renowned oceanographer and scuba pioneer, he co-invented the aqualung. He was noted for his love of the ocean and its creatures, and made numerous educational television shows and documentary movies for which he received the Palme d'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956 for his film, "The Silent World." Born in Saint-Andre-de-Cubzac, Gironde, France, his parents were Daniel and Elisabeth Cousteau. He completed his preparatory studies in Paris, and in 1930, entered the Ecole Navale (Naval Academy), graduating as a gunnery officer in the French Navy, with the rank of Ensign. When an automobile accident cut short his career in naval aviation, he turned his interest to studying the sea. In Toulon, France, while serving on the French Navy ship Condorcet, he began making his first underwater dives, using equipment borrowed from a Navy friend of his. Cousteau worked in the Information Service of the French Navy, and in the late 1930s, had tours in Shanghai China, Japan and the Soviet Union. On July 12, 1937, he married Simone Melchior, with whom he would have two sons, Jean-Michel (born 1938) and Philippe (born 1940). When France was defeated by Nazi Germany in 1940, the Cousteau family initially took refuge in Megeve, France, then moved to French North Africa. In 1943, he made his first film, "18 Meters Deep" (1943), which took first prize at the Congress of Documentary Film. He would make a second film, "Shipwrecks" (1943), using an aqua-lung, which Cousteau co-invented with his neighbor, Emile Gagnan. In 1942, while in North Africa, he lived next door to Admiral Darlan's villa, and helped to get the French Navy there to support the Allies. Later in the war, he would assemble commando operations against Italian and German espionage services in France, for which he received several military decorations for valor. At the end of the war, he showed his film, "Shipwrecks" to French Admiral Lemonnier, receiving his support to set up an "Underseas Research Group" for the French Navy in Toulon. After missions of mine clearance and underwater exploration, in 1948, Cousteau's team made an archeological dive on a Roman wreck in Tunisia, the first ever underwater archaeological dive using scuba tanks, opening up the possibility of future archaeological research underwater. Cousteau then assisted in the French Navy's rescue of Professor Jacques Piccard's bathyscaphe, the FNRS-2, which had sunk off Dakar in 1949. Cousteau would later describe these adventures in his book, "The Silent World" (1953). Following this rescue, Cousteau left the French Navy with the rank of Commander to follow his own path. In 1950, he founded the French Oceanographic Campaigns (FOC) organization, and leased a ship named Calypso, which he refitted for field research. During his first voyage on Calypso, Cousteau discovered that dolphins used sonar echolocation as a means of navigation. In the next ten years, he experimented with constructing underwater diving saucers, which reached the depth of 500 meters (1600 feet). Following several experiments in saturation diving and houses under the sea, Cousteau was admitted to the US National Academy of Sciences. In 1960, he organized public opinion against a proposed dumping of nuclear waste materials in the Mediterranean Sea by the French Atomic Agency, CEA, becoming politically active in the environmental field before it became popular. In 1973, he founded the Cousteau Society for the Protection of Ocean Life with his two sons; it continues his work today in protecting the ocean environment. During the 1970s, he would frequently have one-hour television specials, which he used to education the public on the ocean and its fragile environmental role in the world; it is for this work that he is most remembered by the general public. For his work in ocean research, President Ronald Reagan presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985, and in 1988, he was elected to the French Academy of Science. On December 2, 1990, his wife, Simone, died of cancer, and six months later, Cousteau married his long time friend, Francine Triplet, with whom he had two children, Diane and Pierre-Yves. Cousteau died in Paris on June 25, 1997, at the age of 87. Following his death, the city of Paris renamed a street for him. Among his many honors are the Commander of the French Legion of Honor, the Grand-Cross of the National Order of Merit, the Croix de Guerre (Cross of War) 1939-1945, Officer of the Order of Maritime Merit, and Honorary Companion of the Order of Australia.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson
Simone Melchior Cousteau