Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Best Episodes Of "The Jacques Cousteau Odyssey"

   I asked my school's library to order all of The Jacques Cousteau Odyssey DVDs, and they did! Although there are only twelve shows in the series, they are quite interesting and worth watching. My favorite two are "Calypso's Search for the Britannic" (episode 7) and "The Warm-Blooded Sea: Mammals of the Deep" (episode 12). 
   The Britannic - which was larger than the mighty Titanic - was a hospital ship that sank from an unidentified explosion on November 21, 1916. Cousteau actually met with a handful of survivors from the Britannic, and they told him about their experience during the disaster. Apparently there was some mystery as to how a torpedo or a mine could take down an "unsinkable" ship. "There was a big bump...and the ship sort of rose up and came down again," said one survivor. While the ship was sinking, the engines were still running, and so, unfortunately, were the propellers. Some of the life boats were drawn into the massive turning blades. "I saw one lifeboat getting cut up. So I saw arms and legs go up there," said another survivor whose boat managed to slide past the whirling metal. "They never had any chance..." said another man. 
   Most of the survivors (eight were present at dinner with Mr. Cousteau, although more than 1000 survived) believed the boat had been torpedoed. One survivor was convinced that they had been attacked with a torpedo because he had seen a submarine on the previous voyage. The Britannic was clearly marked as a hospital ship, so it should not have been a threat to anyone. 
   Cousteau and his crew decided to travel to the Aegean Sea to visit the sleeping Britannic with their diving saucer and diving team. They also invited 86-year-old Sheila Macbeth Mitchell, a surviving nurse from the ship. She said she felt "10 years younger" after returning to the Britannic after 70 years. 
   The divers could only spend 15 minutes at a time exploring the ship because it is nearly 400 feet down. 
   Cousteau believed that the hull damage was much more extensive than what could have been cause by a single torpedo or mine, and he brought up chunks of burned coal from the ship's innards. The log from a German U-boat reported seeing a hospital ship in the Kea Channel and left it "unharmed", but they had already set out mines. Based on the evidence, the mighty Britannic most likely struck a mine, and the first explosion caught the coal dust on fire and caused a much larger, secondary explosion. 
  No weapons were detected in the storage areas of the ship. It was truly on a mercy mission. And thankfully, all of the hospital beds were empty when she sank. Mitchell said the boat went straight down into the water, "like a good dive. And everybody's heart was in their mouths."
   In episode 4 - "The Warm-Blooded Sea: Mammals of the Deep," there is amazing footage and sound recordings of whales, sea otters, sea cows, arctic seals, killer whales, and dolphins. I was particularly amazed by the footage of a dolphin named Dolly who had previously been trained by the U.S. Navy for reconnaissance missions. After 8 years of military training, Dolly was deemed "incorrigible" by the Navy and was released into the wild. Five days after her release, Dolly showed up in the aquatic backyard of a family named the Asburys. The mother, Jean, "adopted" Dolly. The dolphin seemed to thrive off of Jean's mothering, perhaps in part due to the harsh treatment she received during her military training. The Navy had learned of Dolly's whereabouts and confessed that, at times, Dolly wasn't fed if she did not perform her duties to their satisfaction. 
   The episode ends with images of baby seals in Canada. The pups have long been prized for their white fur, and the Canadian government would issue standard-size clubs so hunters would hopefully kill the seals before skinning them. (Yuck, guys, YUCK.) The show ends with this thought: "Perhaps the mammal that is most unpredictable, incomprehensible, and inexplicable is the human being." 

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