Continuing our look at some of the women who made Sarasota history, we salute the famous “Shark Lady”—Dr. Eugenie Clark, a pioneering scientist who founded Mote Marine Laboratory, which started out as the one-room Cape Haze Marine Laboratory in Placida, Florida, in 1955.
“Genie” Clark was an ichthyologist with special knowledge of sharks and tropical sand fishes, a courageous diver and explorer who continued to work underwater until the year before her death at 92 in 2015, an educator and the author of three books (including the best-selling Lady with a Spear) and more than 175 articles, including popular stories in National Geographic magazine.
Born in New York in 1922, Clark first visited New York Aquarium at Battery Park at age 9 and was immediately fascinated by the sharks and fish she saw there. She earned her bachelor’s degree in zoology from Hunter College in 1942 and applied to graduate school at Columbia University, but she was rejected by a department chair concerned she would leave her career to raise a family. (She did indeed go on to have four children, but that did not stop her from pursuing her scientific dreams.)
Clark later earned her Master of Arts and her Ph.D. in zoology, taking her first dive in the early 1940s. In all, Clark conducted 72 submersible dives as deep as 12,000 feet and led over 200 field research expeditions all over the world.
The lab she founded, which became Mote Marine in Sarasota, is now more than 60 years old and hosts diverse marine research and conservation programs, education programs and a public aquarium. Scientists at Mote work in oceans surrounding all seven continents. Clark’s own career spanned almost 75 years and no doubt inspired countless scientists and students—many of them women. In 2018, she also had a newly discovered species of dogfish shark named for her—Squalus clarkae—aka Genie’s Dogfish.