Nature shows are a commonplace feature on our television sets. Currently BBC iPlayer lists at least 23 series or one-off programs focusing on a particular area of the globe or animal species. We have been shown the diversity, beauty, and brutality of nature. We have been dazzled by visual images, laughed at the courting dances of some birds, and cried when a young animal is caught to provide dinner for another young animal. We have learned about the interdependency of species, both animal and plant, and the impact of our actions on our planet and the life it contains.
One of the first nature shows I watched was The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. The world it presented was beautiful and complex. Animals were shown as something beyond a source of food or commodities for humans. They had families and societies of their own. The French accents and the occasional subtitles when the divers spoke to one another in French added to the exotic, special nature of the shows. Much of what is now common in nature shows, like interacting with inquisitive penguins, they did first.
At the heart of the show was the Calypso, the strange looking ship they used as their nerve center and base of operations. From her they would explore anything from a tropical reef to the frigid water below a polar ice cap. It was more like another personality on the show rather than a setting. She became a symbol of exploration and caring about the natural world. In 1975, she was immortalized by John Denver.
In the late 70s and early 80s, Cousteau and his team vanished from my life. I’m not sure if it was due to me changing or the world moved on to other interests. Now I learn that in 1996, this symbol and icon was involved in an accident in Singapore and sank. For the past 20 years she has been in a French shipyard, rusting, amid legal disputes of ownership, unpaid debts, and disagreement on the nature of her restoration.
The Cousteau Society has recently announced that all those problems are now behind her and the Calypso will soon be sailing, under her own engines, to continue the work of exploration and education. I wish her and her crew Bon Voyage and look forward to learning the new things they discover.
the things that you’ve shown us, the stories you tell.
Aye, Calypso, I sing to your spirit, the men who have served you so long and so well.
– John Denver, “Calypso”