Science Milestones: Ocean Exploration with Jacques Cousteau

I grew up on the Oregon Coast.  It is no surprise that as a child of the 70s, my favorite television program was The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. My brothers and I looked forward to it every week.

Cousteau once said, “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”  I believe this to be true. Every time we are near the coast, the sea calls to us and we always enjoy discovering what secrets she wishes to share with us.

ocean explorationBiography

Jacques Cousteau was by far the most famous undersea explorer of the 20th century. His legacy includes more than 120 television documentaries, more than 50 books, and an environmental protection foundation with +300,000 members.  In addition to his work in the media, he has also pushed technology forward with numerous innovations that forever changed the explorations of the world’s oceans.

  • The Calypso: From 1950-51, Cousteau and his crew turned this former minesweeping boat into an oceanographic research vessel packed with instruments, including submersibles, a helicopter, dozens of antennae, and a “false nose” — eight portholes for underwater observation.
  • The Diving Saucer: This flying saucer-like submersible debuted in 1959. Big enough for two people, the 3.5-ton craft can drop to 100 feet and stay under for up to five hours. It was built with three lights, two cameras, a radio, a tape recorder, and a sampling arm. It’s still in operation, but newer submersibles have joined the team.
  • Sea Fleas: Launched in 1967, these two diving craft fit just one person each and can drop to 1,600 feet. Peering through portholes made of three-inch-thick Plexiglas, the pilots can see and radio each other, and can even use the sampling arms to help each other to the surface in a jam.
  • Conshelf I, II, III: These subaquatic labs proved people can live and work underwater. In 1962, two people spent five-hour workdays at 30 feet below in Conshelf I. By 1965, six “oceanauts” were able to spend three full weeks living 300 feet below in Conshelf III.
  • Turbosail: In 1980 Cousteau and his team created a new form of wind-driven engine. Housed in a cylinder that looks like a tall smokestack, the rotating Turbosail still provides efficiency four times that of the best conventional sails.

cousteauHe was born on 11 June 1910, in Saint-André-de-Cubzac in southwestern France. The youngest of two boys born to Daniel and Elizabeth Cousteau, he suffered from stomach problems and anemia as a young child. He learned to swim at age four, starting a lifelong fascination with water. As Cousteau grew, he showed an interest in mechanical objects and upon purchasing a movie camera, he took it apart to understand how it operated.

After completing school, he entered the French Naval Academy. Upon graduation, he became a gunnery officer with the French Navy’s information service.

Later, as an adult, he was in a near fatal car accident and as he recovered, he took up swimming in the Mediterranean Sea.  When a friend gave Cousteau a pair of swimming goggles, it opened him to the mysteries of the sea and began his quest to understand the underwater world.

Bring it Home

  • Introduce students to Jacques Cousteau and his work through books (some are listed below) and/or videos of his work (many are available on Netflix).
  • Ask students to research aspects of Cousteau’s life, including his invention of the aqua lung, and the meaning of the acronym, SCUBA.
  • Research information on the world’s oceans and on some of the problems associated with oceans and seas.
  • Make a poster illustrating something about the ocean–a characteristic or an environmental problem.
  • “People protect what they love,” and now with the help of PBS, Cousteau’s son, Jean-Michel, and the Ocean Adventures team, their work continues. Check out Using Ocean Adventures in the Classroom for extensive lesson plans, activities, and links to online videos.
  • Get involved. Do your part to conserve resources and protect the environment.  Learn more at the Cousteau Society website.

cousteau quote

Cousteau Biographies

  • One of my favorite biographies of Cousteau, Manfish, A Story of Jacques Cousteau, is written by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Eric Puybaret. The story is written poetically, starting with Cousteau as a curious little boy wondering about the sea, and traveling with Cousteau through his life and adventures.
  • The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino is a colorful book about his life and accomplishments. Beautiful quotes from Cousteau are sprinkled throughout and the illustrations are reminiscent of the 60s.
  • Cousteau chronicled his early days of underwater adventure in Silent World, a memoir that was an instant, international bestseller upon its publication in 1954. To celebrate the 50th anniversary edition of this remarkable book, National Geographic has recently reissued it.
  • Another book we have enjoyed is Down, Down, Down by Steve Jenkins. Though it is not about Cousteau, it is a delightful book about the amazing creatures of the sea.  Upon reading it, we were inspired to re-create many of the illustrations.

Science Milestones

Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

To find out about more people born in June hop on over to iHomeschool Network’s June birthdays page.

About Eva Varga

Eva is passionate about education. She has extensive experience in both formal and informal settings. She presently homeschools her two young children, teaches professional development courses through the Heritage Institute, and writes a middle level secular science curriculum called Science Logic. In addition to her work in education, she is an athlete, competing in Masters swimming events and marathons. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, learning new languages, and above all spending time with her family. ♥

1 comment on “Science Milestones: Ocean Exploration with Jacques Cousteau

  1. I too was a huge fan of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau! The beach is always one of my favorite places to explore. Thanks for sharing at Finishing Strong!

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