Eugenie Clark was an American Ichthyologist, better known as a biologist devoted to the study of fish. She was popularly regarded as “the Shark Lady” and recognized for both her research on shark behavior and her study of fish in the order Tetraodontiformes. She was a pioneer in scuba diving for research purposes and was internationally regarded as an authority in marine biology, using her fame to promote marine conservation.
She was born and raised in New York City, the daughter of Yumico Motomi and Charles Clark, who died when Eugenie was 2 years old. Eugenie’s interest in aquatic life began at the old Battery Park Aquarium in Manhattan and with her childhood collection of hundreds of tropical fish kept in dozens of aquariums. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Zoology from Hunter College in 1942, spending her summers studying at the University of Michigan Biological Stations. She was discouraged from attending Colombia for her Master’s degree by a professor who stated she would probably end up being a housewife. She did marry, five times, and raised four children, never letting her family stop her from obtaining an education or furthering her career. She also attended New York University, where she received her Master’s degree in 1946 and her PhD in 1950.
In 1951, Eugenie was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue ichthyological studies at the Marine Biological Station in Hurghada, on the northern Red Sea of Egypt. Here she collected 300 fish species, including three new ones and dozens of poisonous ones which led to a New Yorker, write-up, titled, “Fish Lady”, and her popular book, Lady with a Spear (1953)
With the help of fan and heiress Anne Vanderbilt, Eugenie started the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory in 1955, where she began a long legacy of working with, training and protecting sharks. Over the course of her seven-decade career, Eugenie Clark published two books and more than 175 articles, with her last article on triggerfish published a couple of weeks before she died in 2015. She conducted over 70 dives in submersibles to depths as great as 12,000 feet, led more than 200 field expeditions around the world and worked on 24 television specials, even helping to create the first IMAX film. Clark was an avid support of marine conservation, focusing on dispelling assumptions about shark behavior and intelligence in an effort to prevent the slaughter of sharks and to preserve marine habitats.