Rest in Peace Dr. Eugenie Clark, First Lady of Sharks

by Owen James Burke

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The first lady of sharks at work. Photo: SportDiver/Courtesy of Nina Leen/Mote Marine Laborator

Dr. Eugenie Clark, vanguard marine conservationist and researcher who was known publicly by her honorary title “Shark Lady” and authored Lady with a Spear about her tours through the South Pacific and the Red Sea in the early 1950s, has passed away at the age of 92 in Sarasota, Florida.

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Eugenie Clark on assignment for National Geographic in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, 1974. Photo: David Doubilet

Early on, Dr. Clark had the odds against her. A Japanese-American who began her career in the 1950s, she was one of the only noted females in the field of marine biology (until good friend and fellow NatGeo explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle came along).

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“Shark Lady” and curious specimens of the deep at Suruga Bay, Japan. Photo: David Doubilet

Dr. Clark was passionately dedicated to battling the fear-mongering of sharks, especially after the 1975 release of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, and began to introduce a sense of love and admiration for the magnificent beasts.

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Clark with a whale shark pup in her lab. Photo: David Doubilet

Dr. Eugenie Clark participated in over 70 deep-sea submersible dives throughout her career, and most recently celebrated her 87th birthday 900 feet beneath the surface of Lake Tahoe. She continued to scuba dive into her nineties, even after being diagnosed with cancer.

She was once bitten by a shark in her car. Running late for a lecture, she stopped short at a red light and put her hand out to protect the tiger shark jaw sitting in the passenger seat. Instead of shattering to pieces on the dashboard, it sliced into the flesh of her arm. Her students that day were “most interested,” she recalled in a 2014 interview with SportDiver.

“She never outgrew this absolute fascination of looking and seeing and observing under water,” longtime friend, photographer and colleague David Doubilet remembered of his late friend to National Geographic.

Just last year, Dr. Eugenie Clark Clark received a Legend of the Sea award at the 2014 Beneath the Sea Expo in New Jersey.

 She is survived by her four children, whom she had by her second of five husbands, and one grandson.

Required reading: 

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Lady with a Spear (1953)

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The Lady and the Sharks (1969)

Read Dr. Eugenie Clark’s full obituary at National Geographic. — OJB

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