In Memoriam Dr. Eugenie Clark (1922 – 2015)
On February 25, 2015, the world lost its most remarkable pioneer in shark research and scuba-diving for research purposes, a leading ichthyologist and marine conservationist, and we lost a beloved colleague, Dr. Eugenie Clark, who died of non-smoking lung cancer at her home in Sarasota, Florida. Nicknamed “the Shark Lady”, Genie, as friends and colleagues around the globe knew her, was born in New York City on May 4, 1922, to a Japanese mother and an American father. Her father died when she was a baby. As a schoolgirl she spent much time at the New York City Aquarium, where she quickly became captivated by sea creatures, particularly sharks. Clark also began keeping fish and other creatures at home. In 1942, she received her B.A. from Hunter College, New York, followed by a master’s degree in 1946, and a Ph.D. in 1950, both from New York University. As part of her graduate studies, she conducted research at leading institutions, such as the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, where she worked with Carl L. Hubbs and learned to scuba dive, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. In those days, entering the male-dominated field of marine biology was quite a challenge for women. In 1949 she embarked on extended field research in Micronesia, where she carried out fish population studies, and four years later published her autobiographical book “Lady with a Spear”, based on her travels in the South Pacific. The book was hugely popular and has been translated into several languages. Following her doctorate, she received a scholarship to pursue ichthyological research at the Marine Biological Station in Hurghada on the Egyptian Red Sea coast, triggering a life-long interest in the Red Sea.
Eugenie Clark was an exceptional woman, whose intellectual legacy will long endure. Her professional career spanned more than 70 years, during which time she traveled the globe and studied the behavior, ecology and taxonomy of fishes, especially of sharks. She founded the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory, in Sarasota, which later changed its name to Mote Marine Laboratory, and from 1955 to 1967 she served as its first director. This period is refelcted in her book “The Lady and the Sharks”, which was published in 1969. In 1968, Dr. Clark joined the faculty of the University of Maryland, College Park, where she taught marine biology. She continued as Senior Research Scientist and Professor Emerita of Zoology after her official retirement in 1999. Clark published over 160 articles and books, lectured at more than 60 colleges and universities in the US, and gave lectures in 19 other countries. Through lectures, articles in scientific journals and popular magazines, books, and television specials, she shared her experience with her peers and the general public. Clark greatly contributed to the scientific knowledge of sharks and substantially improved their reputation in the public eye. She received three honorary doctorate degrees and numerous other honors and awards. Several fish species have been named in her honor. A detailed account of her life and legacy, lists of publications, awards and honors can be found on the Mote Marine Laboratory homepage (https://mote.org/staff/member/eugenie-clark and https://mote.org/news/article/remembering-the-shark-lady-the-life-and-legacy-of-dr.-eugenie-clark). She was married five times, having four children with her second husband.
I first met Genie in 1973 on the shores of the Red Sea. As a teenage student dreaming of a career in marine biology, she inspired me throughout my professional career. It took 34 years until I saw her again in person when in 2007 she visited the Senckenberg Research Institute and Museum of Nature in Frankfurt, Germany, where I was Curator of Fishes. Together with her daughter Aya Konstantinou, and my predecessor and Genie’s dear old friend Wolfgang Klausewitz, we travelled to Dubrovnik, Croatia, where we attended the European Congress of Ichthyology. By that time, I had edited her first contribution to aqua, an amazing study of the behavior of the coral reef fish Pholidichthys leucotaenia. She soon announced the submission of another manuscript on eeltail catfishes Plotosus, but then informed us about a delay, because she needed more data. At the advanced age of 89, she travelled to the Philippines and collected the missing data while scuba diving. Her Plotosus study was than published in aqua in 2011. At 92, she was renowned as the world’s oldest active scuba diver. When I last saw her on 9 February 2015 at her home in Florida, a copy of volume 21 of aqua was laying on the table in front of her with her latest paper just published, a behavioral study of the deep-water triggerfish Canthidermis maculate. Though unwell, Genie was as bright as ever. We talked about ichthyology and she and her young co-author, Rachel Dreyer told me about their next publication project. Until her last days, science remained the essence of her life. The impact that she has had on our scientific community is tremendous. Countless young marine researchers and conservationists from around the globe, who followed in Genie’s footsteps, will remember her as an inspirational model.