Mihai Băcescu And Jacques Yves Cousteau

Acipenser guldenstaedti The Sturgeon Collection of the Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History I had the chance to work in the institution managed by the academician Mihai Băcescu for a quarter of a century and to know well its programmes concerning the development of the institution, the scientific research, and the improvement of the patrimony in the biggest national museum of natural history, all meant to place this science and cultural institution in the heart of Bucharest's inhabitants, in our country and, still being modest, in the soul of many others on the globe.Because of his exceptional PhD thesis from 1938 (on the taxonomy, morphology, bio-geography and biology of the Crustacea-Mysidae existing in Romanian waters), Mihai Băcescu was recommended for, and received, a scholarship in the same year in France, at the National Museum of Natural History. Apart from discovering new species for the existing collections, he was appreciated by the academician Louis Fage, who asked him to collect Cumacea from the Mediterranean Sea, after he acknowledged his method. For the collected material, the greatest cumacologist in the world named a new species after him, Diastiloides bacescui, published in 1940, in the Bulletin of the Oceanographic Institute in Monaco, vol. 37, pages 8-9. After being honoured with a taxon by the greatest specialist in the field, Dr. Mihai Băcescu was elected member of the Société Zoologique de France. I will not insist on the sessions of scientific papers, held at least once a year, where the "maestro" and director of the Bucharest museum asked all the specialists under his supervision to present the results of their research. I will not insist on the minuteness with which he used to prepare this series of conferences, started in 1954 and diversified over his final years, as an adjustment to the beneficiaries' expectations and requirements. I will not insist on his efforts to improve the collections of biological materials originating in places from all over the world, many of them brought by the museum director himself, after the scientific expeditions where he had been invited to participate. I will very gladly evoke his call addressed to the young specialists to start to communicate and exchange publications with biological materials and even to visit other countries for further study and specialisation. Mihai Băcescu was an example of this kind of relationship, all for the interest of the institution he identified with. In this way, some of my lucky colleagues, specialists in hydro-biology, benefited from various working seminars at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and at the Oceanographic Institute in Monaco due to Professor Mihai Băcescu's recommendation, one of not many foreign members of the Development Committee of the Oceanographic Institute, for a period of 15 years. It was at this institute that Mihai Băcescu and Jacques Yves Cousteau met, became friends and appreciated each other's work. Their professional relationship turned into a beautiful and durable friendship, because Mihai Băcescu, apart from having exemplary knowledge about his specialty, was an industrious and efficient man of very good condition, once he started to work on a project.An example of good appreciation of the Romanian specialist by people from abroad was in 1966, when he was asked to organize in Romania (Bucharest and Constanta) the 20th Congress of the International Commission for Scientific Research of the Mediterranean (CIESMM), in which Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, was elected president of the Mediterranean committee. At the same congress, Jacques Yves Cousteau was elected general secretary of the same committee, and Dr Mihai Băcescu – president of the Benthos committee of CIESMM.Due to these tight relationships of trust and friendship, when Cousteau took part in an expedition along the Danube, he also visited his Romanian friend and the Bucharest museum in 1977. The museum was still affected by the consequences of the earthquake that had hit in the same year, on the 4th of March, and the guest was worried about the fate of the great sturgeons of Dr Grigore Antipa's collection, presented by Mihai Băcescu, as it was, deposited in bathtubs.The big glass jars where the sturgeons were conserved had been broken during the earthquake and nowhere in the country, neither then, nor today, have that kind of receptacles been produced. But the Grigore Antipa collection was eventually secured in the same month (October 1977) in plastic containers sent from France by Jacques Yves Cousteau, suitable for those big sized exemplars of sturgeons. Another sign of the commander's friendship to the Romanian specialist was his invitation addressed to the latter to visit Paris in order to assist in the Session of the French Academy that received Cousteau among the members of the highest scientific forum.In 1990, it was professor Mihai Băcescu's turn as he recommended Jacques Yves Cousteau, as a sign of great respect, to become an honorary member of the Romanian Academy and Doctor Honoris Causa at the University of Bucharest.Nowadays, more than decades ago, in the context of globalization, of shrinking geographical distances and of the development of informatics, the example of their friendship constitutes a model of sincere open-mindedness, so that people from different cultures can come together and cooperate in a way that benefits both partners and the nations they represent. 26th of October, 2009 Translated by Monica Manolachi

by Dumitru Murariu