Cousteau explores Mexico's Sea of Cortez

Cousteau's Rediscovery of the World: Legacy of Cortez WTBS/cable, tomorrow, 8:05-9:05 p.m. Executive producers: Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Jean-Michel Cousteau. Producers: Jean-Michel Cousteau and Mose Richards. Writer: Mose Richards. A Cousteau voyage is truly a ``designer'' adventure. It involves specially designed wet suits, just the right cut of bikini, gourmet meals on the beach or at the chic dining table of either the Calypso or the windship Alcyone, a crew carefully selected for appearance as well as expertise, a helicopter, an amphibious plane, rubber craft, and, of course, either Jacques-Yves Cousteau or his son, Jean-Michel, acting as guide-narrator. If one is lucky, there will also be some diving.

How do I know? I was fortunate enough to visit the Cousteau expedition last summer, during the filming of this show.

``Legacy of Cortez'' is the fourth program in a five-year cycle of Cousteau ``Rediscoveries.'' In addition to the designer aspects noted above, it has superb footage of sea lions, grunions, cornet fish, sea cucumbers, moray eels, box crabs, jawfish, snake eels, dolphins, finback whales, sharks, and manta rays - some shot from helicopters, some from surface boats, some underwater. And it all comes complete with wonderfully lush and gaudy descriptive passages - you know, the kind of language that turns a heavy pancake into a ``delicate crepe.''

``Legacy'' is a leisurely study of the Sea of Cortez, which lies above the San Andreas Fault between the Mexican mainland and Baja California. Some scientists believe that the long Baja peninsula will wrench free of the mainland in about 40 million years and become an island in the Pacific.

Meanwhile, though, the Cousteau expedition (with very little of p`ere Cousteau, who seems to be sitting this one out) makes a quick tour of the coastal area, observing coyotes, cacti, and ancient cave drawings, and talking with fishermen forced to give up their pursuit of oysters, sharks, and even manta rays to raise cattle, due to the encroachment of foreign fishing vessels, with their 60-mile-long nets, catching marlin and sharks illegally. Soon, it is clear, this fertile spawning ground for sea creatures may become barren.

In this quintessential Cousteau film, overflowing with varied and entertaining footage on land and seas, one especially disturbing episode occurs when the younger Cousteau follows a group of marlin fishermen. It is agreed that they will throw the catch back unless it is their first catch and they ``need'' it as a trophy. In one case, a fisherman battles a marlin for hours, coddled with cold drinks by his comrades and having his shoulders massaged as he fights to hold the big fish on the end of the line. After he finally reels it in, the marlin is released, free to swim off into the sea once again. I could swear I saw a look of surprise in that fish's eyes. Puzzlement, perhaps. Humiliation, certainly.

But no Cousteau film is complete without a fancy dessert to top it off - usually some thought-provoking, philosophic comment on the irony of nature. In this instance it comes when tuna boats on the surface keep their distance, while below the surface tuna swim safely in and out of the wreck of an old fishing boat, secure from enemies who don't want to risk entangling their nets in the wreck. Jean-Michel feels he must verbalize: ``Perhaps a sign of nature's rebellion.''

``Legacy of Cortez'' will be repeated on WTBS/cable Monday, March 2, and Friday, March 20. It may be seen on some syndicated broadcast stations soon after its cable premi`ere. It will probably be aired on PBS next year. But don't wait.

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