Cousteau's legacy

French philosophers are remarkably silly humans, but I refuse to discuss them or even mention their names. Lampooning the French has become a favourite pastime in the Anglophone world and I have no intention of jumping on the bandwagon. When good-natured teasing degenerates into chauvinistic gloating, the presiding gorilla must thump his chest and announce that enough is enough.

The French, of course, could help us love them more by showing better judgment in their choice of national heroes. They might start by singing the praises of
Jacques Cousteau , the intrepid ocean explorer, who could have exploded the pretensions of les grands penseurs with a single burst of gas from his aqualung. Cousteau was a visionary submariner who serenaded the sea-turtles and danced with the dugongs. And no matter how exquisite or alluring the creatures he encountered, he always resisted the temptation to prod them with his harpoon.

For all Cousteau’s efforts to get us to appreciate the diversity of marine life, I’ve never been able to drum up much enthusiasm for sharks. It’s not that I blame them for eating humans – anyone who chooses to show off on a surfboard is pretty much asking for it. What depresses me about those toothy demons of the deep is their utter lack of conversation or social graces. On a visit to an aquarium in Sydney I pulled every face in the book to get the sharks to wink or grin, but all I got in return were cold, fishy stares. So what if they have tiny brains? Crocodiles do as well, but it doesn’t stop them from opening their jaws and hissing whenever you inquire after the missus.

Dolphins are a totally different kettle of non-fish. I’ve chatted with a fair number of these characters and it’s difficult to get them to shut up once they get started. On a recent cruise to Hong Kong, I was limbering up on the railings when a dolphin’s head poked out from under the waves.

“Hello Mr Hairy,” he chirped. “You look like a giant sea slug – click, click, clack!”

“Hello Mr Slippery,” I replied. “You look like a giant dildo.”

“I am one,” said the dolphin smugly. “The female whales in the neighbourhood have to book three months in advance to get me to service them – click, click, clack!”

I clenched my jaw to avoid chuckling. It’s important to keep a straight face when you’re bantering with aquatic mammals. “As if you’d dare mess with a whale, you saucy sea-devil!” I cried. “Haven’t you got fish to catch or something?”

“Nah, it’s my day off,” explained the dolphin. “Why don’t you jump in so I can take you for a ride? The water’s lovely – click, click, clack!”

I wasn’t going to fall for an obvious trick like that. Dolphins are infamous practical jokers, and I might have ended up in Bermuda if I’d jumped on the back of that bottle-nosed bullshitter.

“Thanks for the offer, my flippery friend, but we gorillas don’t ride other animals. That sort of thing generates ugly rumours. If you want to amuse yourself I’ll throw you a beach ball.”

“I don’t need a beach ball to play with myself,” said the dolphin with a smirk. “But if you hang around for a while you’ll see some real fun and games. The females will be coming; they always do with me – click, click, clack!”

I might have asked him how he knew the females weren’t faking it, but I didn’t want to end the conversation on a rancorous note. “An enthralling spectacle to be sure,” I remarked, “but I regret that I have another engagement and time is pressing – click, click clock!”

“You’ll be sorry! – click, click, clack!” exclaimed the dolphin as I waved and took my leave.

Jacques Cousteau was surely right about the ocean being a world of wonder, inhabited by the most extraordinary creatures, but I don’t intend to explore it for myself. Putting on a diving suit and squirming about like a fish is not the gorilla way. My hope is to discover the secrets of the deep from dolphins, who are far better equipped for that sort of work than we primates. First, I’ll have to persuade them to stop larking about and start patrolling the seven seas with cameras attached to their heads. It won’t be easy.

Here is their
theme song.

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