Fabien Cousteau

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Fabien Cousteau
File:TEDxBrooklyn - Fabien Cousteau (5173719132).jpg
Fabien Cousteau at a TED conference in 2010
Born (1967-10-02) 2 October 1967 (age 51)
Paris, France
Alma mater Boston University
Occupation Filmmaker and explorer
Parent(s) Jean-Michel Cousteau
Relatives Céline Cousteau (sister)
Jacques Cousteau (grandfather)

Fabien Cousteau (born 2 October 1967) is a French aquatic filmmaker and oceanographic explorer who lives in the United States. He is the grandson of famed oceanographic explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau and son of Jean-Michel. A graduate from Boston University, Cousteau worked in marketing for three years before returning to oceanography. He launched his first solo expedition in 2002, filming sharks for a National Geographic Explorer special entitled "Attacks of the Mystery Shark". That year, he also began work on a children's book and founded an online conservation organization.

Starting in 2004, Cousteau spent three years studying and filming great white sharks in a custom built submarine called Troy. The project led to a documentary, Shark: Mind of a Demon, which aired on CBS primetime in 2006. In 2010, he founded Plant A Fish, a non-profit dedicated to repopulating areas such as the Florida Keys and the Maldives.

In 2014, Cousteau spent 31 days underwater in Aquarius in a tribute to his grandfather. In doing so, he set the record for longest time underwater for a film crew, surpassing his grandfather's 30 days, and collected a large amount of scientific data.

Early life and education

Fabien Cousteau is the grandson of famed oceanographic explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, and son of Jean-Michel Cousteau who assisted Jacques-Yves on most of his expeditions. Fabien Cousteau was born and raised in France, although he has lived in the United States for the majority of his life.[1] He has a sister, Céline Cousteau.[2]

Cousteau's first scuba dive came at age four when Jacques-Yves Cousteau strapped a custom made scuba tank to his back and sent Fabien Cousteau off into the Mediterranean Sea. His interest in sharks began at a young age, about 6 or 7, and was piqued when he sneaked into a showing of Jaws. The film perplexed him – "It went against everything I had ever learned about sharks ... Great white sharks don't go around chopping up boats," he explained – and started him on a mission to clear up "the gross misconceptions we have about sharks".[3]

At age seven, Cousteau accompanied his grandfather and father on the first of many sea trips aboard the Calypso and Alcyone, the ships that transported the explorers to their dive locations.[3][4] He official joined the crew at age twelve; his first job was to remove barnacles from Jacques-Yves Cousteau's boats.[3][5]

Fabien Cousteau attended Norfolk Academy in Virginia[6][7] and graduated from Boston University with a bachelor's degree in environmental economics.[3]


After school, Cousteau worked as a marketer for Seventh Generation. "I decided to start up in a different career, in which my name would not help me, just to see if I could survive", he explained.[5] After three years, he returned to the family business, working for his father at Deep Ocean Odyssey, an exploration company founded by his grandfather.[5] Cousteau said he did "very well" in business, "but it really left me kind of empty."[8] He then spent time as a diving and underwater product tester while looking for a company to appoint him "explorer-in-residence".[3]

In 2002, Cousteau went out on his own, launching his first expedition without family help: a dive where filmed his interactions with bull sharks in the Bahamas.[3] He spent three months filming sharks for what would become his first National Geographic Explorer special, "Attacks of the Mystery Shark". In filming, he was "shocked at how few encounters we had. We would go past a school of 50 or 60 sharks during feeding and not one paid any attention to us."[5] The episode, which debuted on 4 August 2002, investigated a recent rise of bull shark attacks and a 1916 incident when a shark was blamed for four deaths in New Jersey, two of them upstream in Matawan Creek.[3][5] The Globe and Mail described the special: If you "get through the corny setup ... this special offers some good television."[9] A second shark documentary followed shortly thereafter.[10] Also in 2002, Cousteau began work on a children's book called The Prince of Atlantis and founded an online conservation organization named Planet Riders.[3]


In 2004, Cousteau was asked to make a new shark documentary. Having already made two, he was hesitant until he remembered a Tintin story he had read as a kid.[10] In Red Rackham's Treasure, Tintin explores the ocean while on a treasure hunt using a shark-shaped submarine.[11] "When I thought back on that, I thought it was a really good idea", Cousteau recalled. "I wanted to film these sharks without any of the artificial stimuli".[10] Normally, sharks' behavior is affected by the attempts to observe them, with chumming and shark cages leading to footage of aggressive, open mouthed sharks that does not represent their natural behavior.[11]

In order to make his vision a reality, Cousteau contracted with Hollywood engineer and family friend Eddie Paul.[10] After a year of development, "Troy", a 14-foot (4.3 m) long, 1,200-pound (540 kg) submarine shaped like a great white shark, was ready for testing.[10][12] Cousteau's initial attempts to drive Troy were "a disaster" as he was unable to get it to move straight.[10] Once he mastered the steering, Troy was capable of fish-like motion. A wet sub, it was filled with water while operating. To breathe, Cousteau carried full diving equipment weighing about 80 pounds (36 kg), which provided about 6.5 hours of air. He lay on his stomach, propped up on his elbows to operate Troy. The submarine was designed to survive a shark attack.[12]

Sharks appeared to view Troy as another shark. They stayed about 23 to 29 feet (7.0 to 8.8 m) away from it, the length of an adult shark, and rolled their eyes, puffed their gills, and changed directions in response to it. These behaviors were observed only in the presence of the submarine, not with free divers, although Cousteau said he was hesitant to say it proved the sharks saw Troy as a shark.[12] Cousteau called the experience of being surrounded by up to five great white sharks at once a "humbling experience. They're like 747s underwater ... but they are so graceful and so deceivingly calm, and very sure of themselves."[10]

For several weeks in 2005, Cousteau navigated among the sharks near Guadalupe Island, Mexico.[13] The resulting documentary, entitled Shark: Mind of a Demon, aired on CBS in 2006. In total, Cousteau filmed 170 hours of footage which were made available for scientific study.[12] According to Cousteau, his crew was able to get good data on great white territorial boundaries.[14] One night, while operating Troy, Cousteau lost contact with his support vehicles. "I ended up anchoring Troy and swimming 230 feet (70 m) in absolute darkness to Isla de Guadalupe", he recalled. "That was the fastest I've ever swam."[12] On another occasion, Troy broke got pinned at the bottom of the sea. After some tense moments, his dive team was eventually able to free Cousteau and bring him to the surface.[15] After the project was complete, he declared "I'm done with sharks for now. There are so many [other] things I want to explore".[12]

After sharks

From August 2005 to March 2006, Cousteau and his sister led a series of dives at the United States' 13 marine sanctuaries.[16] The footage was turned into a two-part episode of Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures called "America's Underwater Treasures." Among other things, the team captured footage of goliath groupers, humpback whales, a rare giant Pacific octopus, and spawning coral. They also visited various shipwrecks including a sunken Civil War battleship, and talked ecologists.[17] Cousteau said the goal of the show was to "make these special places real for viewers everywhere".[18] The Cousteau family's acclaimed PBS series "Jean-Michel Cousteau Ocean Adventures" continued on thru 2009, with its expeditions spanning from the Arctic to Papua New Guinea to the Amazon and covering topics from climate change to indigenous cultures.

In June 2010, Cousteau launched "Plant A Fish", a nonprofit dedicated to the restoration of the world's water bodies through active community engagement and education. Its first project was to plant a billion oysters in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He personally helped students plant the first 130,000 in a launch ceremony for the charity. Later plans for the charity include repopulating areas such as the Florida Keys, the Maldives, and El Salvador with mangroves, coral reefs, and sea turtle.[19]

Mission 31

Originally scheduled for November 2013, Mission 31 was postponed to June 2014 due to a US federal government shutdown.[4] From 1 June to 2 July, Cousteau spent 31 days underwater filming and collecting scientific data as a tribute to his grandfather. In doing so, he set the record for longest time underwater for a film crew, surpassing his grandfather's 30 days set in 1963. However, people on submarines have spent a longer amounts of time living underwater, so it was not an absolute record.[1] Cousteau got the idea for Mission 31 when visiting the undersea laboratory Aquarius during a fundraiser aiming to keep it operating in the wake of federal budget cuts.[20] It was his first saturation dive.[4]

By working out of Aquarius instead of diving from the surface, Mission 31 crew members were able to scuba dive up to nine hours without surfacing or undergoing decompression.[21] After the expedition concluded, Cousteau remarked "I didn't know how I was going to react – physically, psychologically – [but] it was amazing how much it felt like home."[2] He estimated his team had collected the equivalent of two-year's worth of data during the mission, enough for ten scientific papers, and said he "would have loved to have continued beyond 31 days".[2][21]

Personal life

As of 2002, Cousteau lived in an apartment near Sutton Place, Manhattan with a dog named Heidi.[3] He has been described as "dashing", a "hunk", and filled with showmanship.[22][23] In 2002, he was selected by People magazine as the "sexiest explorer" in the magazine's annual listing of the sexiest living men.[24]


  1. 1.0 1.1 John Lichfield (2 June 2014). "Fabien Cousteau aims to beat grandfather's underwater record by staying submerged for 31 days". The Independent. Retrieved 2 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Alyssa Newcomb (2 July 2014). "Fabien Cousteau Calls the Ocean 'Second Home' After 31-Day Undersea Mission". Good Morning America. ABC News. Retrieved 2 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Robin Finn (31 July 2002). "Heir to an Undersea World, Swimming With Sharks". The New York Times. Section B, page 2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Anne Dujmovic (28 November 2013). "Dive on in: Fabien Cousteau and the urge to live under the sea". CNET. Retrieved 2 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Donna Freydkin (1 August 2002). "Cousteau's grandson dives in". USA Today. Life section, page 4D.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Q & A Bart Shepherd, Director of Steinhart Aquarium". Cal Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 16 August 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Bye, Calypso: Cousteaus return to TV, though not on old vessel". HamptonRoads.com. 4 April 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Ann Oldenburg (27 June 2006). "Swimming with sharks: A new Cousteau takes the plunge". USA today. Life section, page 3D.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Scott Colbourne (8 November 2003). "Digital Highlights". The Globe and Mail. Globe Television, page 3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 Michael Park (26 October 2005). "At the Shark End". The Independent. Science & Technology Features.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 John Schwartz (22 November 2005). "Ocean Explorer Becomes One With the Sharks". The New York Times. Section F, page 1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 "Fabien Cousteau: The Belly of a Beast". National Geographic. November 2005. Retrieved 2 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Daniel Dasey (9 October 2005). "The only safe way to be swallowed by a great white". The Sun Herald.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Matthew Campbell (2 October 2005). "Cousteau and his incredible Trojan shark". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 5 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Karen Bale (24 June 2006). "The Jaws of Death". Daily Record. p. 23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Amy Morris (1 April 2006). "Under the Sea Reef Off Georgia Coast will be Featured in PBS Marine Series". The Augusta Chronicle.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "America's Underwater Treasures". PBS. Retrieved 8 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Cousteau to Make Film in Reef Near Savannah". The Augusta Chronicle. Morris News Service. 23 September 2005. Metro section, page B5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Ariel Schwartz (8 June 2010). "Fabien Cousteau Plants a Fish in Brooklyn". Fast Company. Retrieved 5 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "Fabien Cousteau's 'Mission 31' Enters 2nd Half". CBS4 Miami. AP. 16 June 2014. Retrieved 3 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. 21.0 21.1 "5 Things to Know About Cousteau's Undersea Mission". ABC News. AP. 2 July 2014. Retrieved 2 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Andrew Wallenstein (28 June 2006). "Cousteau's Grandson Swims with the Sharks". NPR. Retrieved 5 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Linda Stasi (27 June 2006). "Jump the Shark: Cousteau's Hunk Grandson Goes Deep". The New York Post. p. 79.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Tracy Conner (21 November 2002). "Ben There, Done That, Says J.Lo". New York Daily News. p. 4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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