Aquanaut Breaks Down Ocean Exploration Scenes From Movies & TV

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Aquanaut Fabien Cousteau breaks down clips from movies and tv about ocean exploration, and explains just how accurate they really are. Are submarines really yellow like The Beatles's "Yellow Submarine"? What makes the Titanic shipwreck so legendary? Can sharks be as intelligent as the ones seen in "Deep Blue Sea"? How much was "The Life Aquatic" based on Jacques Cousteau?

Video Transcript


- Righteous!


FABIEN COUSTEAU: My name is Fabien Cousteau.

- Fabien is an aquanaut and ocean explorer.

FABIEN COUSTEAU: Today, I'm going to break down some clips from movies and TV about ocean exploration. So let's dive in. Exploring the ocean, "The Life Aquatic" with Steve Zissou.

That's a little close to home. There are many different types and shapes of submersibles or submarines, from military use-- they could be quite large and quite comprehensive-- to scientific submersibles that contain just one person. Breathing underwater, "Pirates of the Caribbean, Curse of the Black Pearl."

- This is either madness or brilliance.

FABIEN COUSTEAU: I love this movie, but that's actually plausible. If the boat is heavy enough to hold the air for a short amount of time, there's enough oxygen in that breathing loop to be able to do that. Air pockets form in things that are concave, so like a cup being forced under water. But that's the key, is is the boat heavy enough to not float up to the surface with an air bubble? Additionally, scuba diving and ocean exploration under the blue veneer was first started with this similar kind of concept. So this is feasible.

- So it would seem.

FABIEN COUSTEAU: Ocean currents, "Finding Nemo."


- What brings you on this fine day to the EAC?

FABIEN COUSTEAU: Yeah, so ocean currents are absolutely real. Deep ocean currents are basically conveyor belts connecting the various oceans of the world. Many animals that are transients actually use ocean currents for transportation. So it is absolutely possible to find these kinds of turtles and others in these kinds of currents, because they've been using them for hundreds of millions of years to transport them from point A to point B.

- Righteous! Righteous!

FABIEN COUSTEAU: Ships, "The Beatles, Yellow Submarine."

- (SINGING) We all live in a yellow submarine, yellow submarine, yellow submarine.

FABIEN COUSTEAU: Usually, we listen to sounds of nature because we have to be very attentive to the radio from the surface, to other sounds around us in the water. Well, my grandfather built some of the first underwater submersibles for scientific research. And in order to distinguish a submersible for military use versus a submersible for scientific research, the research submarines were painted yellow, high visibility, so you can see them easily and distinguish themselves from other purposes.

And so the color yellow is very typified in underwater research submersibles. Now, that said, that's not the only color. There's white, there's orange, there are many other colors. But yellow is by far the most common color.

- I kind of like the way it is.

FABIEN COUSTEAU: Losing oxygen, "Into the Blue."

So many things are wrong with this scene. First of all, you shouldn't be low or out of air. If you are, you should be with your buddy, who can share air with you. This is an analog pressure gauge, very common. And it's buried in the zero mark, which means that he just ran out of air completely. And that's an extremely dangerous scenario, and one that you're trained to avoid.

- Yo, check this out. Look at this.

- Where's Amanda?

FABIEN COUSTEAU: He, of course, understandably went straight to the surface, not blowing bubbles, which you should be blowing bubbles as you're going to the surface. Otherwise, you can risk an embolism.

- Give me that tank, quick!

- Come on, give me a tank.

- Come on! Come on, come on!

- Give me a tank, tank, tank!


FABIEN COUSTEAU: Grabbed a tank with no regulator on to go back down. In emergency circumstances, you can swap those tanks out underwater if you know what you're doing. But this guy looks like he doesn't know what he's doing. Fantasy underwater habitat, Star Wars 1, "The Phantom Menace."

Almost everything in this scene is total fantasy other than the freediving aspect, of course. But what's interesting is, the miniaturized apparatus that they put in their mouths is actually modeled after something that has been experimented with.


In most fantasy renderings of underwater habitats, you see a dome, and then you see people in some sort of dry environment underwater city. That's kind of a hybrid idea between what we as human beings need, which is a source of air, a source of breathing gas, and some of these sea creatures who can seemingly transition from a water environment to an air environment without any problem in breathing.

That said, we are building an underwater city of sorts, an underwater research station more akin to the International Space Station of the sea, called Proteus. Proteus will be fully equipped to take on at least 12 to 18 people, to house a submarine in a submarine hangar, and to be able to deploy aquanauts for indefinite periods of time in the ocean, and to live underwater for not hours or days, but weeks, months, and possibly longer. Deep diving gear, "The Abyss."

- Give me a reading off your liquid oxygen gauge.


FABIEN COUSTEAU: There's some creative license taken in this particular scene. Deep divers typically do use suits somewhat like this, although this certainly looks like a space suit. The suit itself apparently is equipped with liquid breathing--

- --me a reading off your liquid oxygen gauge.

FABIEN COUSTEAU: --which up to this day is not feasible. The idea of liquid breathing is exactly that. It's breathing liquid that's rich in oxygen so that it sustains life. What we typically use on expeditions are full face masks, which fit the entirety of your face up front. And that gives us the advantage of being able to have multiple, different kinds of attachments on there, including, in this case, an open-circuit pod.

We can switch this out to a closed-circuit pod, which allows us to use rebreathers. And additionally, it gives us the ability to have communications. So we'd have a microphone in here, and we'd be able to communicate amongst each other underwater and to the surface. "The Meg."



I'd love to have that habitat. That looks pretty cool with the tube and everything else. There are several things wrong with that clip. First of all, scale. There's no shark of that size in existence today. It just simply doesn't exist.

Oh, boy.

- Bet you like that. Bleed!

FABIEN COUSTEAU: The injury that it sustained, getting sliced open like that, may not have killed it right away. But it certainly would have injured a shark enough so that it would have broken off an attack.

And lastly, I've never seen so many different species of shark in one particular screen or one particular glance. Real interesting, but a total fantasy. The end of the day, there're only about 90 to 95 shark incidences worldwide, of which a dozen are fatal, which is tragic. But compare that to the 120 million sharks we slaughter every year. Who should be afraid of who? Ocean myths, Atlantis, and "Aquaman."

I want to live there. [LAUGHS]

Atlantis has been a common myth since the Greek legends. And it may be based in some aspects of history where earthquakes may have swallowed up a nearshore village and sunk it to the bottom of the sea.

- The ocean swallowed us, and Atlantis sank.

FABIEN COUSTEAU: People have been fascinated with the ocean world since there have been people on this planet, because it's below the blue veneer. It's below that surface area. It's that mystery place that is full of animals and sea creatures and aliens. And so it stands to reason that we would hope and think and dream that there's an underwater city down there somewhere.

- Oh, I know the story.

FABIEN COUSTEAU: Underwater exploration, "The Titanic."

- OK, pier 2, we're going over the bow. Stay with us.

FABIEN COUSTEAU: The Titanic has been the subject of pseudo-legend for a century. One iceberg sank it right to the bottom of the ocean. And so between the publicity and the notoriety of the Titanic, it's become quite a legend.

This particular clip in "Titanic" actually portrays a fairly accurate visual of what you would see on a clear day underwater, especially at depth, when you happen onto a shipwreck. With that kind of light and those kinds of capabilities, that is quite possibly what you'd be confronted with.

- Still gets me every time.

FABIEN COUSTEAU: Really trying to set me up, aren't you? [LAUGHTER]




Well, Hollywood has outdone itself yet again. First and foremost, don't touch anything you don't know in the water, ocean, lake, whatever. Just don't touch it. Additionally, laying eggs in long strands like that, I've never seen, especially from a piranha. Certainly aims to be quite an entertaining film.

- This is incredible.

FABIEN COUSTEAU: Stranded, "Open Water."

- Daniel, where's the boat?

- I guess it's one of those.

FABIEN COUSTEAU: They pretty much did everything that they needed to do when they popped up. Normally, when a person goes for recreational diving, they have all the basics, including BCD, mask, fins, snorkel, and a tank. In the scenario like in open water, two things that could save your life and are easy to carry are a whistle to signal attention to the closest boat and a safety sausage, which, when you inflate, comes up 3 to 6 feet, depending on the size of the sausage, so that it signals where you might be. Very simple mechanisms, easy to carry, and can potentially save your life one day. Capturing fish, "Finding Nemo."

- No, Dad! Daddy!

- No!



FABIEN COUSTEAU: It should be absolutely illegal to take anything from the sea without any specific permissions. I would highly recommend that you leave the coral reef the way it is and just take pictures--



--because otherwise, you could be subject to some very strict rules by the authorities.

- You think you can do these things, but you just can't!

FABIEN COUSTEAU: Finding treasure, "Into the Blue."

They look like a bunch of yahoo divers. There are a lot of things that if you're a professional treasure hunter or archaeologist, you simply don't do. First of all, you always wear a rash guard or a wetsuit, even in tropical waters. Typically, you don't hang on to each other with one DPI, or Diver Propulsion Vehicle.

There are a lot of procedures that you'd want to follow to do things professionally. This is definitely not professional.

- I can't believe this guy! The nerve.

FABIEN COUSTEAU: "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."

- Take care with the tentacles. They'll seize anything within reach and hang on to the death.


FABIEN COUSTEAU: There are a lot of rumors why the giant squid has become this mythological animal. I would imagine you find little tantalizing bits of evidence washed up on shore, and the imagination fills in the blanks. And so you create a sea monster. Giant cephalopods, including squid, exist. And we haven't really done a good job at finding them or filming them.

There have been sailor stories of large animals like giant squid sometimes wrapping their tentacles around their boats. I would imagine that there may be a time down the road where a deep sea submersible-- not a large submarine like Nemo's, but a small submersible-- may have an encounter with a squid or some other kind of cephalopod. It's possible that it may get curious and wrap its tentacles. I would imagine it wouldn't be able to bring it down to the bottom, but, hey, they're pretty big animals.

The classic shark attack, "Jaws."

- Smile, you son of a--



FABIEN COUSTEAU: Shooting a scuba tank in a shark's mouth is probably not going to yield those results. Typically, shooting a scuba tank allows for the air to pass through the bullet hole and will make it act like a rocket more than an explosion.

- Aye-aye, sir, argh!

FABIEN COUSTEAU: Freediving, "The Big Blue."

There's many different kinds of freediving, from variable weight to constant weight to assisted to unassisted. In this particular case, the protagonist goes down to the bottom on a sled, so variable weight, and goes to the depths in the dark to experience the ocean.

- I've got to go and see.

FABIEN COUSTEAU: Those who do freediving, they would consider this a more pure form of diving.

I don't usually see freedivers dive at night, but the rest of it is fairly accurate. Defense against sharks, "Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, Cradle of Life."



First of all, it's a giant shark coming at her. And she's punching with her weight towards an animal that weighs 10 times what she weighs, more.


Not realistic. Secondly, sharks don't yawn underwater. It was a common practice and common thought that punching a shark in the nose was a good deterrent in case you were face to face with an animal that was aggressive. We've since found out that you actually have a good chance of angering the animal. Smart sharks, "Deep Blue Sea."

- They recognized that gun.

- That's impossible. Sharks do not swim backwards. They can't.


FABIEN COUSTEAU: What to say about that clip. They're right that sharks don't swim backwards, unless for short distances, they can back out of a corner or something like that. It's not realistic. Shark cage, "47 Meters Down."


- Wait! Wait, no-- [INAUDIBLE]


FABIEN COUSTEAU: One of the first things that you do in that kind of scenario is you have a backup connection to the boat. It's almost impossible for something to fail. But if it does, you're always attached to the boat, and you don't go sinking to the bottom.

- Oh, my god, look at those teeth! [LAUGHS] I can't believe how close they are!

FABIEN COUSTEAU: There are several things that are very real reactions. For example, if this is your first time shark cage diving, it's very impressive. It's a little-- can be a little intimidating or scary.

- Are you girls OK?

- No. I think the cage just dropped a little bit.

FABIEN COUSTEAU: They do have AGA masks or AGA-type masks on for communications. Usually, you're on hookah and not on tanks when you're in the shark cage. But if, god forbid, something like this would happen, they do have an air supply with them.

More ships, "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou."

- Here's where we do all our different science projects and experiments. This is the kitchen, which contains probably some of the most technologically-advanced equipment on the ship.

FABIEN COUSTEAU: That clip comes very close to home. The Calypso was my-- my home growing up. And the crew were family. The Belafonte is quite similar in that nature.

- Topside, we've got the bridge, the minisub, an old chopper, and all kinds of radar and sonar and underwater movie gadgets.

FABIEN COUSTEAU: Your typical research vessel would be set up for everything that you need for long-term expeditions because in many cases, once you sailed off from port, you would be gone 3, 4, 5, 6 months, sometimes multiple years at a time. So you would need to bring with you everything that you could-- a library for all the research needed; a galley, of course, that was fully equipped, preferably with wine; and, of course, some laboratories to do experiments on site. For us, it was also having a dive locker and other vehicles so that we could get to places that the ship just couldn't. Equipment damage, "The Abyss."


- Oh, shit.

FABIEN COUSTEAU: That's what-- about what everyone would say in that scenario. Having equipment that's tethering you to the surface coming down from the surface is potentially devastating.

- Holes on the exterior hatches, let's move, let's go, go, go, go, go!

FABIEN COUSTEAU: Taking away the fantastical aspects for a moment, teams such as the one in "The Abyss" are mimicking some of the functionality of teams in exploration for deep ocean in the realms of oil exploration, cable laying, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Diving gear, "Men of Honor."


- One.





FABIEN COUSTEAU: Ah, yes, lead feet. Although I've never been in the US Navy, this seems like a fairly extreme test for the US Navy diver. The equipment that he was donning is hundreds of pounds, and it is extremely difficult to move in. So you have to be very well trained and in great physical shape. They used to use those for training in the old days. And it was commonplace before scuba to use hardhat diving to explore the bottoms of the ocean.

- At ease.


FABIEN COUSTEAU: Underwater explosions, "Lost."



Underwater explosions have the potential of being quite devastating. Now, what I'm really curious about, though, is why the young gentleman sealed himself inside when he could just as easily gone by the bulkhead and sealed himself on the safe side of that explosion.

- I don't know!

FABIEN COUSTEAU: Mother nature, "Day After Tomorrow."

Everyone's worst nightmare. No one's going to sleep after this, no one in cities near shore.


So, tsunamis, huh? Tsunamis and large waves can be triggered by many things, including tectonic plates shifting. Luckily, this is very rare, but it does happen. It's happened in the South Pacific several times. And unfortunately, lives get lost. In this particular fictitious scenario, that's hundreds of thousands if not millions of lives that could be lost.

I guess if we lived on a different planet that didn't have an ocean-- [LAUGHS] --then we could avoid these kinds of issues. But the reason why we exist, the reason why everything that we know, we love, we cherish exists, is thanks to the ocean.


- Conclusion.

FABIEN COUSTEAU: One of my goals in life is to have people fall in love with the ocean the way I did as a child. As much as I love Hollywood and fiction, the reality of ocean is much more mesmerizing. It's Pandora's box of mysteries, waiting to be uncovered. It's a very unique, magical place that deserves your attention.