History July 6, 2018
Eugenie Clark, "The Shark Lady" (1922-2015)
Internationally famous as “The Shark Lady,” Dr. Eugenie Clark was a leading ichthyologist and conservation advocate in the public sphere.
Clark was born in New York City on May 4, 1922, to Charles and Yumi Clark. Charles was a Pennsylvania native, while Yumi had immigrated from Japan in 1907, at the age of 10. Charles Clark died shortly after his daughter’s birth. The 1930 census reports the young Eugenie and her mother living in Queens with Yumi’s younger brother Walter Mitomi, an architectural draftsman, and his mother Yumiko Nagahara. Yumiko later married a local Japanese, Masatomo Nobu, who owned New York’s Chidori restaurant.

While Clark attributed part of her interest in the ocean to her Japanese ancestry and cultural background, in which the sea plays a large part, she encountered prejudice during her school days, when her Japanese ancestry made her stand out from her school classmates.
The young Eugenie (known as “Genie”) grew up in New York. In her early years she spent a good deal of time with her grandmother at the beach in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where she learned to swim. While Clark attributed part of her interest in the ocean to her Japanese ancestry and cultural background, in which the sea plays a large part, she encountered prejudice during her school days, when her Japanese ancestry made her stand out from her school classmates. As she later recalled, “I’m half-Japanese, and in those days, people didn’t understand the Japanese – they thought we were the mysterious people of opium dens and long fingernails.” A drawing of hers was vandalized with the word “Jap” scrawled over it. Clark responded by being outrageous: when other children would ask about the sheets of black seaweed she would bring for lunch, she would say, “I’m eating carbon paper.” [1]

Clark often recalled how she spent hours [at the New York Aquarium], her pressed her face against the glass of the fish tanks, imagining that she was swimming in the water surrounded by such mysterious and beautiful creatures. From that day on, she decided to work with fish.
The young Genie had a life-changing event occur one Saturday morning when she was nine years old. She accompanied her mother to Manhattan, where Yumiko worked, and was left alone all morning in the New York Aquarium (then at Battery Park). Clark often recalled how she spent hours there, her pressed her face against the glass of the fish tanks, imagining that she was swimming in the water surrounded by such mysterious and beautiful creatures. From that day on, she decided to work with fish. She bought a mini-aquarium with some tropical fish to raise at home, and eventually filled “rooms and rooms” spent countless Saturdays at the Aquarium studying the movements and interactions of the fish.
Clark earned a B.A. in zoology from Hunter College in 1942. Shortly afterwards, she married her first husband, Hideo Roy Umaki, a Hawaiian-born Japanese American airline pilot. The marriage ended in divorce in 1947. During the war years, Clark was unable to find a job in her field, and instead worked for a plastics company, Celanese Corporation of America in Newark, New Jersey. Meanwhile, she enrolled at New York University, earning her master's in zoology in 1946 and later her Ph.D. in the field in 1950. (While she considered studying at Columbia University, she was discouraged by sexist comments from a science professor during an interview).
After receiving her Master’s, Clark was invited by oceanographer Carl L. Hubbs to take the position of research assistant at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. Here she learned how to dive—she almost drowned on one occasion when a hose in her diving helmet became blocked and the air failed to reach her. After leaving Scripps, she was hired as a research associate by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, which allowed her to complete her Ph.D. Her dissertation was on the mating behavior patterns of xiphophorin fish.

It was while she was in Palau that she learned the technique of consulting with local fishermen, whose experience gave them expertise on the characteristics of fish in their environments.
Meanwhile, Clark began doing field research in different areas of the world, including Micronesia, Hawaii, and the West Indies. One of her earliest research sites was the South Pacific island of Palau, where she studied poisonous fish. Since compressed air was not available on these islands, located far from populated countries, she had to learn to free-dive. It was while she was in Palau that she learned the technique of consulting with local fishermen, whose experience gave them expertise on the characteristics of fish in their environments.

In 1951, Clark used a Fulbright grant to embark on a ten-month study of poisonous fish at the Ghardaqa biological station on the Red Sea. Armed with goggles, a snorkel-type breathing tube, and an elastic projected spear gun, she remained in the water for an estimated twelve hours per day...Clark found nearly 300 species, 40 poisonous, including three never before discovered.
In 1951, Clark married her second husband, Ilias Themistokles Papakonstantinou (AKA Constantinou), an orthopedic intern. The couple had four children in the following six years. Meanwhile, her career took off. In 1951, Clark used a Fulbright grant to embark on a ten-month study of poisonous fish at the Ghardaqa biological station on the Red Sea. Armed with goggles, a snorkel-type breathing tube, and an elastic projected spear gun, she remained in the water for an estimated twelve hours per day. She later related that she shocked both local Muslim women and men when she wore a two-piece bathing suit. Clark found nearly 300 species, 40 poisonous, including three never before discovered.
Following her return, she settled in Buffalo and wrote a memoir of her experiences, with assistance from a Eugene F. Saxton fellowship. It was published under the title Lady with a Spear in 1953. The book earned Clark widespread publicity, both due to her research and her presence as an attractive young woman in a male-dominated field. A British edition appeared the following year, and numerous foreign-language editions followed.

Her deep concern for protection of marine environments led Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to protect the reefs of Ras Muhammed, which in 1983 became Egypt’s first national park.
In the wake of her memoir, Clark was invited by the Vanderbilt family to move to southwestern Florida, where they offered to finance the construction of a lab and research station. The Cape Haze Marine Laboratory (later the Mote Marine Laboratory) opened in 1955, with Clark as founder and executive director, plus one assistant. Its mission was to do research on sharks and to acquire sharks for other researchers. She continued to travel the world. In research in Eilat, Israel in the 1960s, she conducted a “poisoning” operation and discovered new species of fish. She met then crown-prince Akihito of Japan, taught him how to snorkel, and gave him a nurse shark. In 1969, she published her second autobiographical work The Lady and the Sharks. She also wrote numerous popular articles for National Geographic magazine over the following years. She also worked as a conservationist. Her deep concern for protection of marine environments led Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to protect the reefs of Ras Muhammed, which in 1983 became Egypt’s first national park.
In 1967, after separating from her husband, Clark moved with her family to New York. The following year, she was named professor of Marine Biology at University of Maryland and moved to Bethesda, MD, although she retained her connection with Mote. She was briefly married twice more.

She traveled to Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula in search of the so-called "sleeping sharks" who remained immobile in the water. Her discovery challenged longstanding scientific theories that sharks died if they ceased moving.
While Clark continued research on various fish during these decades (and had multiple species named for her) she achieved her greatest renown as an expert on sharks. She traveled to Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula in search of the so-called "sleeping sharks" who remained immobile in the water. Her discovery challenged longstanding scientific theories that sharks died if they ceased moving. She also discovered that sharks were nauseated by the secretions from the Moses sole, a flatfish living in the Red Sea, and used her discovery to develop the first effective shark repellent. She became an expert, on the whale shark, the world’s largest fish. In 1973, she located a dead specimen in a net in the Red Sea, which she was able to study. In the 1980s she encountered live sharks. On one occasion she grabbed the skin under a whale shark’s dorsal fin and was carried along on a ride with the shark until she finally decided to let go. She also rode jockey-style on the back of a female whale shark off the coast of Baja California.
Meanwhile, much of Clark’s most visible work was devoted to dispelling public fears about sharks, which were magnified by the popular 1970s novel and film series, Jaws. Indeed, one of her National Geographic stories on them was entitled, "Sharks: Magnificent and Misunderstood." Clark maintained that, despite public misconceptions, sharks were not dumb animals—they were intelligent enough enough to learn to press buttons on command--nor generally dangerous to swimmers, whom they avoided. Because of her work, Clark was popularly known as “the shark lady.”
Clark officially retired from University of Maryland in 1999, although she continued to teach one class per semester. She continued diving into her nineties, even after being diagnosed with non-smoking-related lung cancer.
[1] Deborah Churchman, "It's Shark-Fin Rides - Not Soup - For This Ichthyologist," The Christian Science Monitor, January 4, 1982, cited in “Eugenie Clark,” Archives of Maryland Biographical Series http://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc3500/sc3520/013500/013574/html/13574bio.html
Sources

“Eugenie Clark” Archives of Maryland Biographical Series http://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc3500/sc3520/013500/013574/html/13574bio.html/

Clark, Eugenie, Lady With a Spear, New York: Harper & Bros. 1953

Eilperin, Juliet, “Swimming With Sharks,” Smithsonian 42.3 (June 2011), 34-38, 40

Buts, Ellen R. & Joyce R. Schwartz. Eugenie Clark: Adventures of a Shark Scientist. Linnet. 2000.

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