Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Eugenie Clark, Ph.D. (1922-2015)
MSA SC 3520-13574


Dr. Eugenie Clark was born on May 4, 1922, to an American father and a Japanese mother.  Tragically, her father, Charles Clark, died when she was just a baby, leaving Eugenie with her mother, Yumiko, who married a Japanese restaurant owner, Masatomo Nobu, when Genie was a child.  Growing up in New York City, Genie quickly became captivated by sea creatures after a fortuitous trip to the Battery Park Aquarium one Saturday afternoon.  Clark often recalled how she pressed her face against the glass of the shark tank and imagined that she was swimming in the ocean surrounded by mysterious and beautiful creatures.  After just a few hours at the aquarium, Eugenie Clark experienced a fascination with the ocean that would last throughout her lifetime, leading to a distinguished and celebrated career in oceanography.1

From a young age Eugenie Clark was different.  Not only was she fascinated with the ocean at a time when science was still heavily dominated by men, but she was also of a different heritage than most of the children in her class.  Although she notes that she in no way looked Japanese, her Japanese mother and step-father developed her cultural heritage.2  Genie once recalled the difficulties of standing out:

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.  I remember a drawing I made of underwater sea life that won a prize as best in the school.  They hung it on the wall and someone wrote ‘Jap’ in big letters across it.3

Rather than being disheartened, Clark took these unpleasant experiences and credits them with making her “aggressive and spunky and defensive” – all traits that would no doubt be very helpful as she later entered the male dominated field of oceanography.  Clark also credits her Japanese heritage and the central role of the sea in Japanese culture to fostering her love for the ocean.4

After her first trip to the aquarium, Eugenie went back every Saturday morning while her mother worked at a magazine stand nearby.  Clark began to learn everything she could about the fish housed there and quickly made friends with the “Bowery bums,” as she called them.  These “bums” who usually loitered outside would come into the aquarium on rainy or cold days, and as Eugenie impressed them with her knowledge, a relationship began to develop.  Clark described these men: “Some of them were well-educated men who just didn’t make out in their life, and they knew quite a bit about the fishes.  They were like a bunch of jolly uncles to me.”5

In keeping with her fascination for all things aquatic, Clark’s childhood hero was William Beebe, the famed naturalist and writer.  From the time she was a child, Eugenie dreamed of exploring the ocean like Beebe, although her family feared that she would never actually get into ocean exploration.  Clark recalled how she told her family:

I would like to go down and be like William Beebe.  They said maybe you can take up typing and get to be a secretary to William Beebe or somebody like him.  I said, ‘I don’t want to be anybody’s secretary!  I want to be like William Beebe going down.6
Never wavering in her passion, Clark enrolled in Hunter College in New York City, graduating in 1942.  Shortly after graduation, Eugenie married her first husband, a “handsome pilot” named Jideo Umaki, who was often called Roy.  Their marriage lasted seven years, but Umaki was deployed overseas for most of the union.7 At this time, Clark worked for a plastics company, Celanese Corporation of America in Newark, New Jersey, from 1942 to 1946, because there were few jobs available to inexperienced oceanographers due to the United States’ involvement in World War II.8  At the same time she attended master’s classes at New York University, although she had originally intended to go to Columbia University.  In an interview, however, a scientist at Columbia told her:
Well, I guess we could take you, but to be honest, I can tell you by looking at you, if you do finish you will probably get married, have a bunch of kids, and never do anything in science after we have invested our time and money in you.9
Accordingly, Clark instead enrolled at NYU, earning her master’s degree in zoology in 1946 and her Ph.D. in 1950.10

After graduating with her master’s, Clark began conducting research in various parts of the world.  One of her most interesting research trips took her to the South Pacific where she had to learn to free-dive as compressed air was not available on the remote islands.  A Palauan named Siakong, whom she described as a “betel-chewing, wife-beating drunkard” as well as the best diver in the area, was her instructor.11  It was while in the South Pacific that Clark learned to consult the local fisherman when looking for a particular species, as their years of working on the sea gave them insight into local variations and abnormalities.  Despite the language barrier, Clark quickly won over the locals and benefited greatly from their assistance.  She once described the process of approaching a native fisherman: "When a fisherman brings you a trigger fish, and you push the little part that releases the trigger, then he can see that you understand something that is near to his heart.  And he’s ready to show you everything."12

Returning to the United States, Carl L. Hubbs, a fellow oceanographer, invited Clark to work as his research assistant at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, La Jolla.  Here she learned how to dive, survived a near drowning incident in which a faulty hose prevented air from reaching her diving helmet, and encountered yet more discrimination because of her gender.13  Although the staff at the Scripps Institute was friendly and welcoming, policy prevented women from attending overnight trips.  Being one of only two women at the Institute, Clark was not allowed to participate in trips on the high seas or to the Galapagos Islands.  Eugenie Clark and her fellow female classmate, Betty Kamp, were only allowed to attend day trips.  Clark recalled how being one of two women affected her treatment at the Institute:

We had to work extra hard, especially on field trips, to prove we  could keep up with males…It amused me that when I did do some of the things (e.g. diving in caves with ‘sleeping’ sharks) considered ‘macho male accomplishments’ that I was given more credit than males for doing the same thing they did.  It helped to balance out some of the prejudices against females.14
Following her stint at Scripps, Clark returned to New York City, where she worked for the American Museum of Natural History as a research assistant, which allowed her to work towards her Ph.D. while paying for her living expenses.15

After graduating with her Ph.D. in 1950, Clark married her second husband, Ilias Themistokles Papakonstantinou, although his last name was later changed to the more Americanized Konstantinu.  Konstantinu was of Greek descent and an orthopedic intern at the time of their marriage.16  Amid a burgeoning career, the couple welcomed their first child, a daughter named Hera in 1952.  A second daughter, Aya, and two sons, Themistokles Alexander and Nikolas Masatomo, followed between 1952 and 1958.17

While building a family, Clark’s career continued to expand.  In 1953 she published her first autobiographical work, Lady with a Spear, which documented her research in the South Pacific and was hugely popular.  The book went through several editions and was translated into several different languages, including Braille.  The popularity of this book led Clark to, “realize I had a talent for communicating about the natural world.  I came to see that it would be my life’s work.”18  Publication of the book launched Clark into the public eye, particularly because she was an attractive young woman in a male dominated field.  Fortunately for Clark, the wealthy Vanderbilts also noticed her and offered to finance the construction of lab and research station in Florida.  Clark’s husband was also eager to open his own practice, so the family of six relocated to the Southwestern coast of Florida.19

With one assistant, a seasoned local fisherman named Beryl Chadwick, construction on the small lab began and Clark became the founder and executive director of the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory.  The main objective of the lab was the “acquisition and maintenance of sharks for visiting scientists, and research on sharks.”20  Fortunately for Dr. Clark, Chadwick was an experienced shark-catcher and the pair was able to find several sharks when they received their first request from John H. Heller, then the director of the New England Institute for Medical Research.  Cape Haze’s reputation as a lab began to grow and the research team eventually moved to a larger facility, the abandoned Bass Biological Station in Englewood, Florida.  The move shifted the focus of the lab somewhat and it became a non-profit organization that was open to the public.21  Remarkably, Clark was just 33 when she became the director of her own lab, a lab that is still in operation today, although it has been renamed the Mote Marine Laboratory.22

The success of the lab and the rarity of a female marine biologist helped expand Clark’s career and gave her the nickname “Shark Lady,” which oddly enough predated her experiments on the large fish .  By 1965, Dr. Clark had become so well-known that she was the guest of the crown prince of Japan, Prince Akihito, to whom she gave a small, trained nurse shark and a portable testing apparatus as a gift .23

Dr. Clark is most well-known for her work with sharks, as evidenced by her popular nickname, “Shark Lady.”  Clark became the first scientist to train sharks to press targets, challenging the age-old stereotype that sharks lack intelligence.  Clark remembered her surprise when she began working with the fish: “What was so interesting was all of this talk about sharks being dangerous.  People generally thought that sharks are dumb eating machines.  After some study, I began to realize that these ‘gangsters’ of the deep had gotten a bad rap.”24  Clark’s work with sharks also took her to caves off the coast of Mexico where she studied the mystery of “sleeping sharks.”  Local fisherman and divers had reported caves where large groups of sharks appeared to be sleeping, suspended in the water, a particularly startling find given that the scientific community generally believed that sharks needed to be moving to breathe.  Dr. Clark investigated the strange behavior herself by diving in the caves for an up-close look, further cementing her reputation as a fearless “Shark Lady.”25

Interestingly, Clark found her career greatly impacted by the Jaws phenomenon.  Both the books and the movies propelled sharks into the public eye, bringing Dr. Clark with them.  She was often engaged to speak as an authority on shark behavior and used the opportunity to challenge the negative image garnered by the books and movies.  Eugenie herself enjoyed the stories, but compared them to a Frankenstein or Dracula-like tale, a deviation from the normal behavior of the animals.26  On one occasion Clark had Peter Benchley, author of the stories, accompany her when she dove because she was able to convince him of the damage he had done to the reputation of sharks.27

Although her professional life was coming together, Clark faced marital problems with her second husband, Ilias.  In the late 1960s, Clark began to feel that Ilias had become obsessed with money and ended her marriage with him.  She then met and married the first American existentialist author, Chandler Brossard, and moved with him and her children back to New York City in 1967.  This marriage ended shortly thereafter at which time Clark accepted a teaching position at the University of Maryland, College Park and moved to Bethesda, Maryland in 1968.  In 1970, Clark married her fourth husband, Igor Klatzo from the National Institutes of Health.  This marriage also did not last very long and ended a few years later.28

Despite the difficulties in her personal life, Clark remained focused on her career, and in 1969 published her second autobiographical work, The Lady and the Sharks.29  Her popularity also continued to grow at the University of Maryland in College Park, where one student described her as “one of the most gracious and natural people I’ve ever known” and noted that, “Her enthusiasm shone through in every lesson.  She radiates energy when she talks about fish and her fervor carries over to the student.”30  While teaching at the University of Maryland, Clark received three fellowships, five scholarships, six medals, and 32 other awards and citations in marine conservation and writing.31  Officially retiring in 1999, Dr. Clark continued to teach one class a semester for several years, leaving a lasting impression on the zoology department and the University in general, as reflected in the fact that she was named Outstanding Woman of 1982 by the University of Maryland.32

Dr. Clark’s contributions to science extend far beyond sharks or her ability to inform the public.  While diving in the Red Sea she once discovered a new species of burrowing fish which she named Trichonotus nikii after her youngest son, Nicki.33  More recently Clark has become involved in environmental preservation, not surprisingly, focusing on marine environments.34

In addition to the recognition she received at the University of Maryland, Clark has been awarded numerous awards and honors throughout her career.  For her investigations into “sleeping sharks,” Clark was awarded a gold medal from the Society of Women Geographers.  She also received the John Stoneman Marine Environmental Award from Mako Films Ltd. of Toronto, Canada for “exceptional contributions to preserving the ocean environment.”35  Clark was also given the honor of having National Geographic Magazine report on all of her major research discoveries, which ultimately totaled 12 articles.36  Clark also won notoriety for her publication of a children’s book, The Desert Beneath the Sea, and won an Emmy for her underwater films.37  Throughout her lifetime she has experienced such honors as sailing with Jacques Cousteau on the Calypso, consulting for the National Geographic and Cousteau societies, and lecturing around the world.38  Dr. Clark was also honored with the distinction of being inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame in 1989.

Dr. Eugenie Clark has been invaluable to the world of science for many reasons.  Not only has she greatly contributed to the scientific knowledge of sharks, she has also worked tirelessly to improve their reputation in the public eye.  She has further contributed scientific research on a variety of fishes, including her discovery of Trichonotus nikii.  Perhaps most importantly, however, Dr. Clark challenged the stereotypes surrounding women in the scientific community, proving to researchers and the public alike that even small, diminutive women can greatly impact the scientific community.

Dr. Clark died in Sarasota, Florida, on Feburary 25, 2015, at the age of 92. 

1. Eugene K. Balon, "An Interview with Eugenie Clark," Environmental Biology of Fishes 41: (1994), 89-90. Return to text

2. Deborah Churchman, "It's Shark-Fin Rides - Not Soup - For This Icthyologist," The Chrisitan Science Monitor, 4 January 1982. Return to text

3. Ibid. Return to text

4. Ibid. Return to text

5. Ibid.; Ken Day, Rapture of the Deep: The Eugenie Clark Story, Maryland Public Television State of Mind Series, Aired 5 October 1995. Return to text

6. Balon, 89. Return to text

7. Ibid., 91. Return to text

8. Ibid., 92. Return to text

9. Carolyn B. Stegman, Women of Achievement in Maryland History (Forestville, MD: Anaconda Press, 2002), 230. Return to text

10. Gerri Kobren, "The Shark Lady of College Park," Baltimore Sun Magazine, 27 April 1980. Return to text

11. Hillary Hauser, "Profile: Eugenie Clark, Shark Lady," Sport Diver, Spring 1979. Return to text

12. Churchman. Return to text

13. Balon, 92-93; Stegman, 230. Return to text

14. Balon, 122. Return to text

15. Ibid., 93. Return to text

16. Ibid., 94. Return to text

17. Ibid., 94, 96-98. Return to text

18. Ibid., 94. Return to text

19. Ibid., 96. Return to text

20. Ibid., 97. Return to text

21. Ibid. Return to text

22. Lloyd Grove, "Shark-Riding U-Md. Scientist Gains Fans, Critics With Her Exploits," The Washington Post, 8 December 1981. Return to text

23. Balon, 98, 100. Return to text

24. Stegman, 230. Return to text

25. Churchman. Return to text

26. Day. Return to text

27. Robert Bazell,  "NBC Today: Eugenie Clark, Sharks," University of Maryland, College Park, Eugenie Clark Non-Print Media Files. Return to text

28. Balon, 100-101, 106. Return to text

29. Ibid., 101. Return to text

30. Ibid., 106; Stegman, 230. Return to text

31. Alicia Cypress, "Names in the News," The Washington Post, 22 Decemeber 1999. Return to text

32. Frances Suave, The Washington Post, Maryland Weekly, 14 April 1982. Return to text

33. Churchman. Return to text

34. Stegman, 230. Return to text

35. Suave. Return to text

36. Balon, 106. Return to text

37. Stegman, 230. Return to text

38. Steven Long, "Swimming with Sharks: 70-Year-Old Researcher Can Tell a Fish Tale or Two," The Houston Chronicle, 13 September 1993; Bill Sautter, "Dive, She Said," The Washington Post, 2 October 1994; Stegman, 230. Return to text

Biography written by 2006 summer intern Amy Huggins.

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