A Tribute to Eugenie Clark
Eugenie Clark, the renowned American ichthyologist and shark expert passed away at the age of 92 in her home in Florida last week
Born in 1922 to a Japanese mother and an American father who passed when she was only two years old, Clark grew up in New York.
Regular visits to the New York aquarium had sparked Clark's passion for marine life early in her childhood and had encouraged her to pursue a career in marine biology.
Clark obtained a BA in Zoology from Hunter College in 1942 and a master's from New York University four years later. After research positions at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California and New York's Natural History Museum, Clark earned a PhD in Zoology from New York University in 1950.
Five years later, in 1955, Eugenie Clark established the Mote Marine Laboratory, then called the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory, in Sarasota, Florida. Initially the institutions focus was on sharks but Clark later conducted insightful research into the poisonour tropical fish species.
Her groundbreaking studies and shark conservation efforts earned her the nickname 'Shark Lady'. She discovered the first natural shark repellent and sucessfully refuted the theory that sharks need to move in order to breathe. In 1995 her research team dissected a stranded whale shark, discovering that they give birth to live young.
In her lifetime, Clark published three books, including her 1953 bestselling autobiography Lady With a Spear, and more than 175 articles, given lectures at universities all across the country, received numerous honorary degrees and awards and has conducted more than 70 sumbersible dives.
Eugenie Clark has inspired generations of marine biologists, conservationists and divers. Douglas David Seifert pays his very personal tribute to the Shark Lady below.
A personal tribute from our World Editor Douglas David Seifert
I will always dream of Genie
Genie Clark was one of those people the world has a chronic shortage of and the kind you meet all too rarely in a lifetime. The kind of person you fall in love with immediately, because of their honesty, their openness, their humour, their wisdom and the way they view the world that happens to align with your view. She and I were born 40 years and six days apart and spent a few birthdays together in remote exotic places where she identified the best sites for studying certain types of fish. Her fascination and boundless enthusiasm was an extension of that childlike sense of wonder that so often gets blunted or broken in the process of growing up, but not so for Genie. Her passions were infectious in the best possible way, her obsessions became your obsessions. Because of Genie, I cannot dive a reef in the Indo-Pacific and not consciously look for various species of garden eels, convict fish (Pholidichthyidae), striped eel catfish (Plotosus lineatus), sanddivers (Trichonotus) and even the bland-coloured and too timid oceanic triggerfish (Canthidermis maculata) of our last expedition together this past June. I was fortunate enough to photograph species and behaviour for some of her research papers including the last one, published to her great joy and satisfaction, one month prior to her death.
I have yet to meet a marine scientist or diver who was not inspired by 'The Shark Lady', author of Lady with a Spear and Lady and the Sharks, indeed, on more than a dozen occasions over the years, I overheard women and men come up to Genie and gushingly confess that she was the reason why they chose their field. There is no greater immortality than that.
She was one of the most inspirational people in terms of accomplishments and most influential in terms of imparting of a philosophy of grace towards the natural world. Her accomplishments would take pages to fully convey and her accolades were many. She was a pioneer, she obliterated gender stereotypes and succeeded in her fields of interest, she was a true explorer, a fearless scuba diver, a thoughtful ichthyologist and she created a world-class ocean research centre – the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.
No one she met came away not feeling the warmth of a truly genuine, interesting and interested lady of great style and no pretense. She unlocked many mysteries of fish science by herself and with collaborators and she tirelessly provided guidance to colleagues to enhance their own scientific pursuits.
She was a wonderful friend and confident, with a wicked sense of humor and a sly wit. The twinkle in her eyes spoke volumes if you were in the know. She taught me that if you start talking about an animal’s sex-life, then even disinterested people might just listen (see the feature on cuttlefish sex in this issue if you have any doubts) and she never tired of hearing naughty stories of unprintable antics that I shall, out of decorum, not elaborate upon.
She fought a horrible, protracted battle with lung cancer for over a decade and was more active as a 90 year old than many a person a third her years. She outlived four husbands and will be terribly missed by her sons Tak and Niki and daughters Aya and Hera, all of whom accompanied Genie on many diving expeditions, travels and social events. She will be missed by all who know her personally and by all who knew of her by reputation, through her accomplishments and the knowledge she shared. She had a great life, well lived and no one can ask for more.
We will miss you Genie but wherever there are fish – especially those unique species whose spell was cast upon you and from you onto all of us – we know you will be with us, beneath the waves and always.
With love and gratitude, Douglas