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This edition: Season 2, Episode 6: "In the Heart of the Sea"

Episode Details

Original tape date: January 26, 2016.

First aired: April 22, 2016.

In episode #206 of Science Goes to the Movies, aquanaut and filmmaker Fabien Cousteau joins the show to talk about Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea.

To begin, Cousteau breaks down the likelihood of a sperm whale attacking a ship, and what might motivate such behavior, including mistaking the ship for a competing whale and protecting its young. The realism of the vindictiveness displayed by the whale in the film is also considered.

The role of whale oil in the 19th century is assessed next, as well as its various uses, including lighting, pharmaceuticals, and the making of perfumes. The reason for the name of the animal, Sperm whale, is then explained, and the value of the spermaceti oil that is found in the animal’s head.

The diving ability of whales is discussed as it relates to the scene in the film in which the harpooned whale pulls a ship down into the sea, and Cousteau explores the possibility of a successful search for a particular whale in the open sea without the aid of modern technologies like GPS. Studying the habits of the whale and understanding the group of whales with which it travels are considered among the techniques that could help in such a search.

Cousteau then offers his insights, as an aquanaut, on the similarities and differences between outer space and the deep ocean, including weightlessness, slowed down motion, and living arrangements. In particular Cousteau talks about the first underwater living habitat, built in 1961 by his grandfather Jacques Cousteau, and how such a habitat compares to apartments and houses on land. This is then contrasted with the advantages and disadvantages of being underwater in a submarine.

Next is the story of how Jacques Cousteau became the legendary “guardian of the seas,” beginning with an injury to his leg that - rather than have amputated - he sought to rehabilitate through swimming, a decision that led to meeting the lifelong friends who would introduce him to the underwater world, a place that immediately captivated him. He then partnered with these friends to create new tools for exploring the deep, innovating early versions of the scuba gear on which today’s divers rely, and making the deep-sea films for which he would become famous. Cousteau then shares the reason for his grandfather’s iconic red beanie and the untold story of his grandmother, the true captain of the Calypso, who spent far more time at sea than her husband Jacques.

The final topic is the current state of the ocean and the environmental issues arising from chronic over-fishing and pollution. Cousteau shares his specific concerns and solutions, as well as the ocean advocacy and education work being done through his nonprofit, The Fabien Cousteau Ocean Learning Center.

Written and Produced by Lisa Beth Kovetz.

Science Goes to the Movies is made possible by generous support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Guest List

Fabien Cousteau President, The Fabien Cousteau Ocean Learning Center