Jacques Cousteau centennial: 'We must go and see'

Jacques-Yves Cousteau

By Cathy Hunter, Renee Braden and Krista Mantsch - Natgeo News Watch

"Il faut aller voir." ("We must go and see.") - Jacques Cousteau

Jacques-Yves Cousteau began his lifelong odyssey with the sea seeking a little adventure; by the end, he had inspired people around the globe to look more closely at the oceans that make up most of our planet.

For 15 years, it was an odyssey that Cousteau and National Geographic undertook together.

He came to us in 1950, a 42-year-old French naval officer and co-inventor of the Aqua-Lung who also claimed to be an underwater filmmaker.

We hesitated. Yet there was something about this Frenchman, so impossibly slim, with that smile so huge, those eyes so large and mesmerizing. So in 1952 we embarked together on what might have seemed an uncertain adventure. Yet he never doubted the outcome.

"Personally," Cousteau declared, "I have the greatest confidence that our work, helped by your Society, will be particularly fruitful."

National Geographic magazine articles showcased Cousteau's underwater photography, and in 1955 we funded the now-legendary voyage Calypso made to the gorgeous, unspoiled reefs of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

The film he made there and released in 1956 as "The Silent World" is arguably the most influential underwater documentary ever made, winner of both an Academy Award and the Prix d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

By 1960 Cousteau was a household name in the United States in an era as excited about exploring the sea as it was about venturing toward the stars.

Over the years, the Society's Committee for Research and Exploration sponsored and supported many of Cousteau's advanced underwater projects, from construction of the famous diving saucer to establishment of one of the world's first undersea habitats.

With Cousteau, the exceptional became the norm.

There was the singular luncheon, for example, served at Society headquarters on 2,000-year-old plates, plucked from a stock of unbroken crockery the captain had recovered from an ancient Roman shipwreck.

National Geographic Jacques Cousteau Roman shipwreck centennial Calypso film