Cousteau's Great White Shark

Bookshelf: Cousteau’s Great White Shark

Cousteau’s Great White Shark – Jean-Michel Cousteau

Cousteau's Great White Shark
Cousteau's Great White Shark

Jean-Michel Cousteau is one of the sons of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, and, like most of the family, he has continued ocean advocacy work and capitalised handsomely on his illustrious forebear’s name. This can be observed from the (entirely unnecessary) inclusion of “Cousteau” in the book’s title. The book is the companion volume to a documentary program.

I loved the hilarious parallels I found between this book and my favourite movie, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Cousteau’s team also performed a series of ridiculous experiments (robotic shark, anyone?), were all assigned deadly earnest (and hence hilarious) job titles, and at one point try and re-enact a funny event that had taken place earlier when the cameras were not running. The fact that this led to a member of the team’s life being seriously endangered because he was outside the cage trying to get crabs to nibble at his toes when a shark passed by is not considered strange. The fact that a re-enactment of a spontaneously funny event is rarely funny itself is also clearly not appreciated by Family Cousteau. I am sure they all wore red beanies, too!

Reading this book, my chief enjoyment was actually derived from the spectacular photographs of the sharks, taken during a series of expeditions at Dangerous Reef in Southern Australia. This is where the team of Blue Water White Death found their sharks – a rocky outcrop where sharks seem to be found as reliably as they are in Gansbaai and False Bay. The photos are beautiful and haunting, although at times the quantity of chum used by the team seems preposterous. My favourite photograph is of one of the divers in a transparent perspex cage, with a shark hanging almost vertically in front of him, gazing curiously at him through the clear plastic.

The text is hard to read – I found the structure of the book hard to discern and sometimes found the style of writing unnecessarily flowery (though I am hardly one to talk).

Cousteau claims that his team visited the Farallon Islands – another great white shark hotspot, off the coast of California – and despite staying on site for days and chumming themselves into a coma, did not see a single shark. In The Devil’s Teeth, however, one of the resident shark researchers says that the Cousteau team anchored in the wrong spot (despite being informed of where to anchor if they wanted to see sharks) and then spent the entire duration of their visit to the islands suntanning on the deck of their research boat.

Great White and Eminent Grey has magnificent pictures of sharks on the surface and in the air; for some beautiful underwater photos I’d recommend this book. You can get a copy here.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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