Yes, this is a wooden dolphin, and in its beak (sorry, its rostrum) the dolphin is holding a red hat reminiscent of the knit cap famously...

Saint-André-de-Cubzac, where the Jacques Cousteau story started… and finished

Yes, this is a wooden dolphin, and in its beak (sorry, its rostrum) the dolphin is holding a red hat reminiscent of the knit cap famously worn by the underwater explorer and filmmaker Jacques(-Yves) Cousteau. And the wooden dolphin is to be found in Saint-André-de-Cubzac, the town to the north of Bordeaux where Commandant Cousteau was born in 1910 and buried in 1997.

His birthplace, celebrated by a plaque, was a room above the pharmacie ran by his maternal grandfather Ronan Duranthon, from a long line of illustrious local land-owners and wine-growers. Cousteau’s father, Daniel, was from a similarly wealthy background and was heir to the legacy of a merchant-shipping dynasty. He had become a reputable lawyer who had followed in the footsteps of his own father, a notaire. After graduating from Law School in Paris, Daniel returned to Saint-André where he practiced for three years.

The plaque on the wall of Cousteau's birthplace in Saint-André.
Around this time Daniel met Élisabeth Duranthon, twelve years his junior, and in 1906 the 30-year-old lawyer and his 18-year-old bride moved to Paris. From then on, they would only really return to their hometown for weddings and funerals… and for the birth of Jacques-Yves, their second son after Pierre-Antoine who was born in 1906. By then the Cousteaus’ life was already on the road. Although they had an apartment in Paris, they were rarely there and this would partly explain why Élisabeth wanted the birth of their second child to be in a more homely family environment.

The Cousteaus’ itinerant lifestyle was largely due to Daniel’s new full-time position as legal advisor and private secretary to the wealthy American expatriate James Hazen Hyde, who enjoyed a lavish few years in France until the First World War broke out. Hyde then released Cousteau and the family momentarily moved back to Saint-André.

The dolphin on the roundabout near the cemetery where Cousteau is buried.
After 1918, with a fresh influx of rich Americans relocating to Europe, Daniel Cousteau met Eugene Higgins, heir to the fortunes amassed by a carpet manufacturer. Higgins hired Daniel as his factotum, and the Cousteau family followed Higgins as he navigated between Paris and New York, which they went on to call home for two years. It was Higgins who encouraged the shy and reserved Jacques-Yves to learn to swim. It also happened to be on an eight-day transatlantic voyage that Jacques-Yves came out of his shell – he was in his element aboard the liner and the world's oceans were to become his territory.

In the 1920s, the family finally settled for good in Marseille, where the teenager began exploring the rocky Mediterranean Calanques. The incredible story from then on of the man known internationally as Jacques Cousteau is recounted in great detail on numerous specialist pages, but I’ll do my best to squeeze as much as possible into the following concise bullet points, all of which have been stolen from various online sources: 
    Invisible Monaco: Cousteau's
    yellow (!) submarine outside
    Monaco's oceanographic museum.
  • As a student at the French naval academy, his class embarked on a one-year world cruise, which he documented, filming everything and everyone.
  • Cousteau wanted to become a pilot but was seriously injured in a car crash aged 25. To recover the use of his arm he underwent a rigorous swimming programme in the Mediterranean.
  • Aged 27 he married the 18-year-old Simone Melchior who would have a profound influence throughout the rest of his life.
  • In 1943 he co-invented an underwater breathing apparatus, the Aqua-lung, for which scuba divers the world remain thankful to this day.
  • Cousteau then went on to become the most famous undersea explorer in the world, producing dozens of books and films from the 1950s onwards.
  • Cousteau pioneered many techniques in underwater photography while exploring the oceans of the world aboard his vessel Calypso, which now lies in a state of disrepair in Concarneau, Brittany.
  • Cousteau’s filmmaking career included three Oscars, many television specials and a bona fide series, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.
  • It is said that for many years Jacques Cousteau was the world's most famous Frenchman, well ahead of other contenders such as Charles de Gaulle and Marcel Marceau. 
  • Cousteau dedicated the latter years of his life to educating the public on environmental issues, and working with the Cousteau Foundation, founded in 1973 to further marine research and exploration.
Cousteau died aged 87 in 1997 at his home in Paris. The cause of death was a heart attack after a period spent suffering from a respiratory ailment. And the man who had become a global citizen and who had sailed the seven seas was set to return to the place where he was born; he was buried in the Cousteau family vault back in Saint-André-de-Cubzac.

The Cousteau family vault.
How then is Cousteau remembered throughout the town? The street that runs opposite Cousteau’s birthplace has been given his name. The dolphin piece on the roundabout which is located near to the cemetery was the work of the Chile-based French sculptor Lucien Burquier (also known as Polyte Solet) and was given to the town in 1998 by the Chilean city of Caldera, where Cousteau had filmed his final documentary. (The dolphin symbol is particularly apt as the animal features on Saint-André-de-Cubzac’s coat of arms.) Finally, Saint-André’s high school is known as Lycée Cousteau, but technically bears the name of Philippe Cousteau, Jacques-Yves’s second son, who died in a seaplane accident in 1979.

Cousteau’s influence is possibly more tangible still on the global stage, with notable examples including Wes Anderson’s 2004 movie The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, starring Bill Murray sporting a Cousteauesque red hat, and the music he inspired such as Calypso by John Denver, Jean-Michel Jarre's scary Waiting for Cousteau and, a-hem, Jacques Cousteau by Belgium’s Plastic Bertrand. This is how it went:

But perhaps I should really leave you with an excerpt from Cousteau’s classic 1955 documentary, The Silent World:

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