Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Eugenie Clark, Scholar of the Life Aquatic

Eugenie Clark, whose childhood rapture with fish in a New York City aquarium led to a life of scholarly adventure in the littorals and depths of the Seven Seas and to a global reputation as a marine biologist and expert on sharks, died on Wednesday at her home in Sarasota, Fla. She was 92.

The cause was lung cancer, her son Nikolas Konstantinou said.Long before “Jaws” scared the wits out of swimmers, Dr. Clark rode a 40-foot whale shark off Baja California, ran into killer great white sharks while scuba diving in Hawaii, studied “sleeping” sharks in undersea caves off the Yucatán, witnessed a shark’s birth and found a rare six-gill shark in a submersible dive off Bermuda.

Eugenie Clark in 1951. Credit The American Museum of Natural History

Dr. Clark was an ichthyologist and oceanographer whose academic credentials, teaching and research posts, scientific activities and honors filled a 20-page curriculum vitae, topped by longtime roles as a professor at the University of Maryland and director of the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.

She also wrote three books, 80 scientific treatises and more than 70 articles and professional papers; lectured at 60 American universities and in 19 countries abroad; appeared in 50 television specials and documentaries; was the subject of many biographies and profiles; made intriguing scientific discoveries; and had four species of fish named for her.
Over the years, Dr. Clark made more than 70 deep dives in submersibles, once to 12,000 feet. Credit Tak Konstantinou
Ms. Clark was born in New York City on May 4, 1922, to Charles Clark and the former Yumico Mitomi. Her father died when she was 2. Her mother worked in Lower Manhattan, and when the girl was 9 she began leaving her on Saturday mornings at an aquarium near the Battery. Fascinated, Eugenie persuaded her mother to buy her a 15-gallon tank and kept fish, toads, snakes and a small alligator at home.

She graduated from Bryant High School in Queens and Hunter College, where she majored in zoology, and earned a master’s degree at New York University.

After doing research at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, she was a research assistant at the Museum of Natural History in New York and returned to N.Y.U., where she earned a doctorate in 1950, focusing on fish reproduction.

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