Jacques-Yves Cousteau, ocean explorer, television personality, and co-inventor of the Aqua-Lung, died early today in Paris after a long illness. He was 87. Cousteau hosted the TV series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau from 1968 to 1976, as well as numerous documentaries detailing his underwater explorations.
Born on 11 June 1910, in France, Cousteau did not intend to be a deep-sea diver. But after a near-fatal car crash forced him to leave France's Naval Aviation School, he took up swimming to strengthen his injured arms. During World War II, while a member of the French Resistance, he perfected the Aqua-Lung--a breathing device that led to the scuba diving system--with engineer Emile Gagnan. He also made some of the first underwater films with the help of a waterproof camera case he designed.
With a gift from a philanthropist in 1950, Cousteau transformed the former minesweeper Calypso into a floating laboratory, which he and his colleagues used to explore the oceans from the Red Sea to Antarctica. In recent years, he turned his attention to conservation issues, frequently speaking about the importance of protecting the oceans and condemning underwater nuclear testing.
Sylvia Earle, deep-sea diver and marine biologist, says that although Cousteau never claimed to be a scientist or an engineer, "he gave us a passport to the oceans," pioneering much of modern marine biology and oceanography. He made significant contributions to science, she says, often simply by going where no explorer had gone before and by documenting decades of changes in the oceans. "It's a treasure trove of information," she says. "It may be that his most important contributions are yet to be mined."