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In Memoriam Dr. Eugenie Clark MED ’85, “The Shark Lady”

2008 Explorers Club Medalist, Explorers Club Honorary Director
By Anne Doubilet FR ’02

After a long and remarkable battle with lung cancer and an extraordinary career, Dr. Eugenie Clark passed away on the morning of February 25, 2015 at the age of 92. Diving and conducting research right up until the end, “The Shark Lady” inspired legions of people young and old. She was a world renowned ichthyologist and oceanographer who studied sharks and fishes. She made complex science understandable and come alive as an integral part of daily life. Her science coupled with her sense of humor and fun made her a person from whom one learned and with whom one couldn’t wait to embark on adventures. She carried a twinkle in her eye and a compelling sense of mischief—there are so many worldwide Genie stories from so many people whose lives she impacted. She possessed a rare talent for communicating science to the lay person as well as the professional. Whenever she spoke people listened.

One of my Genie stories unfolded in the Sea of Cortez while shooting a story on sharks for Nat Geo Magazine. We had a magical encounter with a 40 foot long whale shark. Then Genie jumped onto it’s back between the dorsal fin and tail and took off into the deep blue—a tiny figure on a behemoth’s back. She was a true explorer.

She published more than 175 articles in scientific journals (up to the just published years long study of sand fishes in AQUA) and popular magazines, conducted over 70 submersible dives—the deepest to 12,000 feet—and led more than 200 field research expeditions to the Red Sea, Caribbean, Mexico, Japan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Thailand and Borneo. She wrote two popular bestsellers that were reprinted in many languages—Lady with a Spear (1951) and The Lady and the Sharks (1969.) And a best selling children’s book Beneath the Desert Sea with her dear friend, colleague and best selling author, Ann McGovern FR ’85.

She was a pioneer in the use of SCUBA diving for research and paved the way for women in a male-dominated world of sharks and fishes. In the early 1950’s she started Mote Marine Lab as the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida in a shack on the beach. Today Mote is a world-class research institution with classrooms, programs and an aquarium that continues her groundbreaking lifelong research.

Genie’s research with sharks started in the 1950’s when she began working with experiments proving that sharks can learn. Lemon sharks were trained to push targets and ring bells for food. In the Steinitz Marine Lab in Eilat, Israel, Genie conducted experiments with sharks that unlocked the secret of a shark repelling poison emitted by the Moses sole. This complex toxin proved to be both a hemo AND neuro toxin that passes simultaneously through the circulatory and neurological systems.

Genie was the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees including The Explorers Club Medal; Medal of Excellence from American society of Oceanographers; Underwater Society of America; Society of Women Geographers; the National Geographic Society; International SCUBA Diving Hall of Fame; Women Divers Hall of Fame; Legend of the Sea from Beneath the Sea; NOGI Award from the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences.

I am so fortunate to have been part of Genie’s sphere and worked worldwide with her on eight of the dozen stories she authored for National Geographic Magazine as well as participating in many of her expeditions. Many places of the underwater world we explored together, particularly in the Red Sea, are now gone from our planet. She was my mentor for over half my life constantly teaching me and so many to never accept no and always ask why. Genie Clark’s lifelong work and her unique voice set the foundation for all the shark and ocean conservation programs now in the forefront of today’s world. She is legend and her legacy, in addition to groundbreaking research and work, is the hundreds of young people she inspired to love the sea and enter marine science.


Eugenie Clark, Scholar of the Life Aquatic, Dies at 92
by Robert D. McFadden in The New York Times




Photos:
Top — Genie Clark measures shark
Middle — Whale shark with Genie Clark, Anne Doubilet, Flip Nicklin (R to L)
Both photos courtesy of Anne Doubilet

Published by : Explorers Club Staff

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Background image photography courtesy of members Christoph Baumer, Neil Laughton, Matt Harris and Don Walsh's image of the Bathyscape Trieste