A visit to the New York Aquarium at age 9 inspired Eugenie Clark – The Shark Lady – to become a marine biologist. She became passionate about marine science, writing school reports on the topic whenever possible, reading the works of explorer and oceanographer William Beebe, and returning to the aquarium every Saturday to imagine swimming with sharks.
Clark earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology from Hunter College in 1942. She applied to Columbia University for graduate school, but fearing that she would eventually leave her scientific career in order to focus on raising children, Columbia rejected her. Clark earned both a master’s and a PhD from NYU. She conducted research at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and many other laboratories. At Scripps, female researchers were barred from going on overnight trips or to the Galápagos Islands, limiting the scope of their work compared to their male colleagues.
After her PhD, she worked for the Office of Naval Research in Micronesia and then received a Fullbright Scholarship to study on the Red Sea coast of Egypt; she wrote about these experiences in her book, Lady with a Spear. After reading the book, Anne and William Vanderbilt built the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory – now the Mote Marine Laboratory – in 1955. It was here that Clark conducted a number of behavioral, reproductive, and anatomical experiments on sharks. As her findings were published, requests for further study began to pour into the lab.
Over her career, she studied whale sharks, great whites, “sleeping” sharks, barracuda, giant squid, species of Tetraodontiformes including puffer fish, and many others. Despite worries that she would quit her career to have children, Clark worked for 7 decades and raised 4 children. Her last dive was at age 92, shortly before her death from lung cancer in 2015.
Clark was an avid proponent of marine conservation and much of her work was focused on sharks and dispelling the public’s fears about them. One of her National Geographic stories was titled, “Sharks: Magnificent and Misunderstood.” Several fish species were named for her.
Suggested by April Franklin
Written by Nicole Hutchison