Philippe Cousteau

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 December, 2006, 12:00am

'When I go filming, I usually stay on a 60ft boat. I have to get up in the middle of the night for the watch hour. It's pretty boring: you just sit in the cockpit and make sure there is no anchor slippage. In some parts of the world you also have to make sure no other boat is approaching yours in the middle of the night.

Because our schedule is dictated by the animals, the time we get up depends on what we have to shoot. Certain animal behaviour happens at different times of the day. For example, I was in Papua New Guinea 10 years ago and we were doing some research on a newly discovered species of sand-diver fish. Their mating behaviour takes place really early in the morning - at 5am, just when the sun rises - so we had to be in the water by 5 o'clock. But usually I get up at 7 o'clock and we'll have a round-table breakfast to discuss the day's shooting schedule. I'm not much of a breakfast person, especially if we're in rough water, but I do force myself to eat something because I'll need the energy, particularly if I go diving in cold water.

For my latest TV series, Ocean's Deadliest, I was shooting some great white sharks out of southern Australia two months ago. We had to get up early in the morning to be ready when the sharks appeared, which can happen anytime throughout the day, so you have to be on your toes. But because it was seal pup time, the sharks were already there early in the morning. We would put some chum [dead fish and blood] in the water to attract them. The sharks feed on the mothers that go to find fish to feed their pups, then when the pups start swimming they also feed on them. We would film the sharks from inside a cage in the morning and early afternoon, then in the evening we would go ashore on one of the islands to film the pups on land.

Sharks and octopuses are my favourite animals. Octopuses, because they're the most intelligent invertebrate in the world. Years ago, my father [Philippe snr] was doing a film called Octopus, Octopus. They had an octopus in a tank at the bottom of the Calypso [grandfather Jacques' famous ship] and they had fish in another tank close by. The fish kept disappearing and the team couldn't understand what was happening until they discovered the octopus was lifting the lid off his tank, sliding to the other tank, lifting that lid and eating the fish, before going back to his own tank. How smart is that!

And sharks, because they're so perfect and beautiful, but so maligned and misunderstood. There are only about 50 to 60 shark attacks worldwide each year and of those, no more than 10 are fatal. Research tells us they're not deliberately attacking humans. The primary food of white sharks is sea lions or seals. If you look at a human on a surf board with his hands flapping on both sides, from below it looks pretty much like a seal. I think that's why they bite then release the human because they realise it's not their typical food. They are not man-eating monsters - that's rubbish. The movie Jaws did a big disservice to the species. Sharks are very important for keeping the ocean environment healthy and to the fish we love to eat, although not me. I've never liked seafood.

I was born in Los Angeles. My mother was an American model and my father a French filmmaker. He met my mother at a party and it was love at first sight. He died in [a plane] accident in 1979, six months before I was born.

I remember growing up in lots of different places as we kept moving around. I think my mother didn't want us to be too rooted in one place. I lived on the east coast [of the US], France, Scotland. My father's friends were kind of surrogate fathers to me and my sister, Alexandra, and helped keep my father's vision, his work and legacy alive for us. I spent as much time as could be expected with my grandfather because he was always travelling. I remember him as a true renaissance man and he had a profound impact on me. He could talk about everything, from the latest video games - a very important skill for a 13-year-old - to the importance of empowering women in developing countries as a solution to many of the world's problems. He was as engaging in real life as he was on television. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to go on an expedition with him because by the time I was old enough he was already very sick. He died in 1997.

I started swimming before I can remember and I had my first scuba dive with a tank in the south of France when I was eight or nine with the expedition chief of the Cousteau Society, one of my father's best friends. I went on my first research expedition when I was 16.

I've always loved the outdoors: rock climbing, trekking, scuba diving, snowboarding. I graduated from St Andrews University in Scotland with a master's degree in history, but I already knew I wanted to do communications, to be a storyteller. My grandfather and father weren't scientists either. By training, my grandfather was a captain in the French navy, but he was passionate about the ocean and dedicated to exploring the world around us and understanding the responsibility we have to make decisions that will leave the world a better place for future generations.

My sister and I founded EarthEcho International in 2000. It's a non-profit education and conservation organisation. Through EarthEcho, I'm producing media and documentary projects, including a series of radio adventures for Living on Earth, the American National Public Radio's weekly environmental programme.

My grandfather pioneered scuba-diving. People hadn't even seen what was underwater until he started in the 1950s with scuba. Things we grow up with today, like dolphins, anemones, nobody had a clue. But there is so much more to explore. We've only explored 5 per cent of what is out there. The final frontier is space: rubbish! We still have so much to find out about our planet. My father was working closely with my grandfather and, before he died, was doing a lot of films about exploring mankind's place in that system and how everything is intimately interconnected. What I'm hoping to achieve is to build on my father's work and encourage a paradigm shift, where people realise all our choices have an impact on the world.

Through my work for Discovery's Animal Planet Channel, I'm now working on a series of ocean documentary programmes and it's a great opportunity to educate viewers. My name certainly helps. It makes it easier to get a foot in the door, but it perhaps [makes it easier] to slam [the door] in our face if we don't perform, because people have high expectations.

I was working with Steve [Irwin] on the Ocean's Deadliest project at the time of his death and was on the boat when the accident happened. It was a freak accident but it underscores the need for what we do. After he died, people started killing stingrays and leaving them on the beach in retaliation. It stands against everything he stood for and shows just how far we have to go.

My sister and I, we've always felt there is a positive responsibility to keep my father's legacy alive. We were never pressured, but what is a better job than being able to explore the wonders of this world, go on adventures and bring it to the eyes of millions? It's fantastic!'