- PARIS -- His name was indelibly
linked to a wonderful world of marine life. But the legendary French explorer,
Captain Jacques Cousteau, mistreated and even killed sea creatures while
staging scenes for his films, his son claims in a book.
- But Jean-Michel Cousteau, 65, who participated in many
of his father's adventures, said such behaviour was normal practice among
wildlife film-makers in the 1960s and 1970s.
- Captain Cousteau's reputation as one of the "fathers
of environmentalism" should not be thrown overboard because of his
occasional ill-treatment of dolphins, killer whales and fish, exposed by
a US TV documentary in the 1980s, his son says.
- "We wouldn't consider it for a second now. For him,
the ends sometimes justified the means. Isn't the important point that
he served the cause of animals?"
- Jean-Michel Cousteau, who appears in many of his father's
films and TV programme, quarrelled with the underwater pioneer four years
before his death in 1997. He has also fell out acrimoniously with Captain
Cousteau's second wife, Francine, who directs the Cousteau Society.
- In his book, Mon pere, le Commandant (My father, the
Captain), M. Cousteau lauds the captain's legacy, condemns his stepmother
for failing to keep the flame alive and suggests his father lost the plot
after his his formidable first wife, Simone (Jean-Michel's mother) died
- "He started making terrible decisions, got entangled
in pointless documentaries in which he was a token presence and started
chasing honours, which he used to ridicule," M. Cousteau said in an
interview with the newspaper, Le Parisien. "You should have seen the
extraordinary amount of time he devoted to designing his [ceremonial] sword
when he was elected to the Academie Francaise."
- Jacque-Yves Cousteau invented the aqualung in 1943 and
was the first person to shoot a full-length movie under the ocean in colour.
His 1970s TV series, The Underwater World of Jacques Cousteau, is credited
with helping to spawn the environmental movement by generating awareness
of the fragility and diversity of living things. His son says the captain's
devotion to marine life was sincere but he had the old-fashioned view that
it was the survival of species that really counted, not the welfare of
- Since Captain Cousteau's death at 87, his reputation
has suffered several blows, including the revelation that he held anti-semitic
views and, during the 1939-45 war, enjoyed friendly relations, with the
Germans and the Vichy regime. Two years ago, there were reports in the
French press that the Cousteau Society and foundation might be forced to
close, buffeted by financial problems and legal disputes within the Cousteau
family over the rights to use the captain's name.
- In next week's book, the younger Cousteau claims that,
under his stepmother's direction, the society and foundation has drifted
aimlessly, and the foundation's membership has fallen from 364,000 to less
than 30,000 in seven years.
- "This woman [his stepmother] walked off with his
legacy, without having any commitment to his ecological missions and without
having been on his expeditions. For seven years, she has been talking of
relaunching his work, without anything to show for it," he says. "All
the same, there are still lots of old ladies who send them money without
realising what has happened."
- There have also been family battles over the fate of
the Calypso, the vessel used in Captain Cousteau's voyages for more than
40 years. The former British minesweeper sank in Singapore in 1996 and
was brought back to France in a floating dry-dock at great expense. The
ship has been declared beyond repair and is rusting at La Rochelle.
- In a biography of the captain just before he died, Bernard
Violet, the respected French biographer, expanded on the claims of cruelty
revealed in a US TV documentary in the 1980s. M. Violet said many scenes
in early Cousteau films, which were passed off as shot in the wild, depended
on using captured sea-creatures which were goaded again and again to perform
as the script required. It was not unusual for creatures to die during
filming. More absurdly, on one occasion a Cousteau film showed lobsters
in the Red Sea, which had actually been purchased live in a market in Marseilles.
- Before Captain Cousteau died, he admitted the allegations
and apologised to his millions of animal-loving fans. The captain's son
does not dwell on this aspect of his father's work in his book, but admits
the claims were true.
- "It's intolerable, but you have to remember that
it was normal 30 or 40 years ago. He wouldn't do it again today."
Jean-Michel Cousteau lives in Santa Barbara in California, running the
Ocean Futures Society, an organisation which promotes sea exploration and
underwater adventure holidays. Despite his criticism, he says his father
was "among the first ecologists, in the modern sense. He awoke awareness
of the dangers facing our planet. He was a precursor, long before others,
of the concept of sustainable development".
- © 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/story.jsp?story=512223