Cousteau Family Clash Over Croc Hunter

9/20/2006 6:33 PM PDT

Cousteau Family Clash Over Croc Hunter

A very public clash of opinions has broken out between Jean-Michel Cousteau and his nephew Philippe over the late naturalist Steve Irwin -- and it's just the latest face-off in the continuing conflict amongst the scions of the life aquatic's first family.

One source who knows the family tells TMZ that Jean-Michel's remarks yesterday, when he slammed the beloved Irwin for his "very misleading" methods on the same day of his public memorial service, may have been an attempt on the part of Jean-Michel to steal PR thunder from his nephew and is not out of character for Jean-Michel. (Philippe was Irwin's partner on the fateful sea voyage that cost him his life.) Other sources say that the seemingly insensitive remarks are the result of "cultural differences" and that Jean-Michel may not have realized how inflammatory his words might be.

Jean-Michel, who is the eldest son of sea-explorer legend Jacques Cousteau, told reporters that he thought Irwin, in his "Crocodile Hunter" shows and beyond, would "interfere with nature, jump on animals, grab them...It appeals to a lot of people, but I think it's very misleading. You don't touch nature, you just look at it. And that's why I'm still alive." (Jean-Michel also said that he found the death "unfortunate" and said he had "a lot of respect" for Irwin.)
But not a fortnight ago, Philippe paid sincere homage to his producing partner and friend on "Larry King Live," saying he was amazed at "how dedicated Steve was and how much he really loved being out there...and also how much the people around him cared for him." Reps for Jean-Michel, Philippe, the Irwin family, and Discovery Channel did not comment on the spat, but this latest disagreement certainly isn't the first time various factions in the Cousteau family have sparred.

In 2001, Francine Cousteau, Jacques' second (and much younger) wife, took legal action to block Philippe, his sister Alexandra, and his mother Jan from using the name Cousteau Foundation, which was named after Philippe's father, also named Philippe, because it might confuse people who thought it was the Cousteau Society, which she administered. (The elder Philippe died in a seaplane crash in 1979.)

Philippe's relationship with his grandfather wasn't exactly the stuff of Hallmark cards, either. He told a scuba diving publication in 2003 that he saw Jacques, who died in 1997, only a few times a year, and added, "Unfortunately, he was not really a father figure to me." Jean-Michel, for his part, battled with his own father over a resort in Fiji that bore the Cousteau name; Jacques spent his later years trying to prevent his son from exploiting the Cousteau name for tourist profit.