Eugenie Clark, also known as the Shark Lady, was a renowned American ichthyologist and marine biologist who dedicated her life to studying and protecting the ocean’s creatures. She was especially fascinated by sharks, and her research helped to dispel many myths and fears about these misunderstood animals. She also discovered several new species of fish, pioneered the use of scuba diving for scientific purposes, and founded the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida. She died on February 25, 2015, at the age of 92, due to complications from lung cancer. Here is a brief overview of her remarkable life and achievements.
Early Life and Education
Eugenie Clark was born in New York City on May 4, 1922, to an American father and a Japanese mother. Her father died when she was a baby, and she was raised by her mother and stepfather, who owned a Japanese restaurant. She developed a passion for marine life at an early age, after visiting the New York Aquarium and reading books by naturalist William Beebe. She learned to swim before she was two years old, and later joined a swimming club where she practiced diving.
She graduated from Hunter College in 1942 with a Bachelor of Arts in zoology, and then earned her Master of Arts (1946) and Doctorate of Zoology (1950) from New York University. During her graduate studies, she conducted research at various marine laboratories in the US and abroad, such as the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts, and the Lerner Marine Laboratory in Bimini. She also participated in an Office of Naval Research program to study fish populations in Micronesia.
Career and Achievements
In 1955, Clark founded the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory in Florida, which later became the Mote Marine Laboratory. She served as its director until 1967, and then as a trustee and senior scientist until her death. The laboratory is now a world-class research institution that focuses on marine conservation and education.
Clark was one of the first scientists to use scuba diving as a tool for underwater exploration and observation. She made over 70 dives in submersibles, reaching depths of up to 12,000 feet. She led over 200 field research expeditions to various regions of the world, such as the Red Sea, the Caribbean, Mexico, Japan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Thailand, Indonesia, and Borneo. She studied various aspects of fish behavior, ecology, physiology, and evolution.
She was particularly interested in sharks, and made many groundbreaking discoveries about their biology and intelligence. She found that some sharks can enter a state of tonic immobility when flipped over, which can be used as a method of shark handling. She also discovered that some sharks can produce sounds by grinding their teeth or expelling air through their gills. She demonstrated that sharks can be trained to perform tasks using visual cues or rewards. She identified several new species of sharks, such as the Red Sea Moses sole shark and the Palau ghost shark. She also studied other fish groups, such as sand fishes, pufferfishes, triggerfishes, and whale sharks.
Clark was an avid advocate for marine conservation and public education. She wrote several popular books about her experiences and findings, such as Lady with a Spear (1953), The Lady and the Sharks (1969), The Desert Beneath the Sea (1991), and Shark Lady: The True Adventures of Eugenie Clark (2016). She also published more than 175 scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals. She appeared on numerous television shows and documentaries, such as National Geographic Explorer , The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau , The Today Show , and Shark Week . She also helped to create the first IMAX film , To Fly! (1976).
She received many awards and honors for her contributions to science and society, such as the Explorers Club Medal , the Gold Medal Award from the Society of Women Geographers , the NOGI Award from the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences , the Women Divers Hall of Fame Award , the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame Award , the Medal of Excellence from Columbia University , and the Legend Award from Scuba Diving Magazine . She also had several species of fish named after her, such as Callogobius clarki , Enneapterygius clarkae , Sticharium clarkae , Parapercis clarkae , Cirrhilabrus clarkae , Trimma clarkae , Eviota clarkae , Ptereleotris clarki , Pseudochromis eugenieae , Squalus clarkae , Apristurus eugenieae , Hydrolagus clarkae , and Carcharhinus eugenie .
Legacy and Impact
Eugenie Clark was a pioneer and a role model for many generations of marine scientists, especially women and minorities. She inspired countless people to pursue their curiosity and passion for the ocean and its inhabitants. She also raised awareness and appreciation for the beauty and diversity of marine life, and the need to protect it from threats such as overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and climate change. She was a true ambassador of the sea, and a legend in her own right.
According to National Geographic , Clark once said: “I have the best of two worlds: a wonderful family and a career I love. I hope that my work will encourage future generations of women to throw themselves into the adventure of science.” She certainly achieved that goal, and more. She left behind a legacy of scientific excellence, marine conservation, and public education that will continue to benefit the ocean and its inhabitants for years to come.