Noted Marine Biologist Eugenie “Shark Lady” Clark, Former UMD Professor, Dies at 92

The university mourns the loss of marine biologist Eugenie Clark,who passed away on February 25 in Sarasota, Florida. Dr. Clark taught marine biology at the University of Maryland from 1968 until her retirement in 1992. Born in New York City on May 4, 1922, to a Japanese mother and an American father, Clark would later become a pioneer in the field of marine biology and break down many barriers for women in the field.

Photo courtesy of Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
23 photo courtesy of Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium

 

Although Clark researched other fish, discovering several species and having a few named in her honor, she focused mostly on sharks. Her fascination began in her childhood at the age of nine when on visits to the New York Aquarium at Battery Park in lower Manhattan, she’d press her nose to the shark tanks and imagine herself inside, swimming with the sharks. She would later go on to earn a B.A. in zoology from Hunter College in 1942 and a master’s and Ph.D. from New York University. She conducted underwater scientific research completing 70 deep dives in submersibles. During one dive in the Sea of Cortez, she rode the back of a 50-foot whale shark, the largest fish in the sea. It’s no wonder why she was referred to as the “Shark Lady.”

photo courtesy of Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
photo courtesy of Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium

Clark wrote the best-selling book Lady with a Spear in 1953 about her experiences conducting research in the South Pacific, which inspired many people to work in marine biology, particularly women. She went on to found the Mote Marine Laboratory in 1955, which focuses on research concerning sharks, wild fisheries, coral reef restoration, marine biomedical research, and other issues.

photo courtesy of David Doubilet for National Geographic
photo courtesy of David Doubilet for National Geographic

Eugenie Clark was well respected and loved by her colleagues at the University of Maryland. Arthur Popper, professor emeritus and research professor in the Department of Biology here at the university had this to say of her:
“Genie was an amazing communicator of science and was able to make science exciting to everyone from children to colleagues. Genie was in high demand as a speaker around the world, and her talks combined great science and infectious enthusiasm for science. Indeed, I recall one week when I heard Genie give a talk on her work to a spell-bound group of 10 year olds in my daughter’s elementary school class, and then she gave a very similar talk to an equally spell-bound group of scientists,  including Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Leaky. Genie was able to captivate audiences, and impart an excitement of science, and a love of science, that was powerful and unique. I know a number of people, including a good number of women, who decided on careers in science or science-related fields after being inspired by Genie.”

Eugenie Clark will be missed by everyone at the University of Maryland as well as the scientific community at large for her contributions to the field of marine biology and her wonderful spirit.

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