Pioneering Late Marine Researcher Took the World Along for the Ride—Literally
Stamp image courtesy of U.S. Postal Service; photo below courtesy of University of Maryland Archives
A late University of Maryland biologist who brought millions of people face to face with sharks through her popular classes, bestselling books, National Geographic articles and public television specials continues to do so on her own postage stamp—the first UMD faculty member so honored.
The U.S. Postal Service announced yesterday that it will issue a stamp in 2022 featuring Eugenie Clark, aka, the “Shark Lady,” who taught marine biology at the university from 1968 until her 1992 retirement. She was a colorful figure believed to be the only woman besides his wife who explorer Jacques Cousteau ever allowed on his ship, the Calypso, and she worked with many world leaders (including Japan’s current emperor emeritus, whom she taught to snorkel) and hitched rides on the backs of sharks, as captured in her underwater films.
She also contributed much to our understanding of the behavior and lives of various shark species, and was honored after her death in 2015 at age 92 when a newly identified deep-sea shark was named Squalus clarkae in her honor.
“She did good science—she was the first person to train a shark to
test its vision, or for any purpose,” said emeritus Professor Arthur
Popper, chair of the Department of Biology during part of Clark’s
tenure. “She was an absolutely great science communicator, and could do
what most scientists cannot, which is to make people excited about her science and discovery.”
Popper, who first encountered Clark in 1966 when he took a class she was teaching at City University of New York, would later become close friends with Clark and began consulting early in 2020 with the U.S. Postal Service after it had decided to introduce a Clark stamp.
Clark had a long and distinguished career, ranging from her 1953 book about her experiences as a marine biologist, “Lady With a Spear,” to the 1955 opening of the Vanderbilt-funded Cape Haze lab she led in Florida, to faculty honors and medals at UMD, where she taught a crowded elective known as “Monsters of the Deep.”
Bev Rodgerson, a retired UMD staff member who worked as an assistant to Clark starting in 1990 and following the biologist’s university retirement, said that Clark was truly in her element under the sea—where she could commune with the creatures she loved and where in her later years, gain relief from the pains of arthritis while she was diving.
Rodgerson accompanied Clark on numerous research trips, and helped her suit up for her final dive in the Solomon Islands in 2014. She recalls joining Clark to swim with whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez in 2000, and gaining an understanding of how the scientist saw the fish that she devoted her life to studying.
“The sense of awe when you see them just overcomes you and there’s no room for fear,” she said.
The stamp by artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, which features an undersea scene with a lemon shark and a photo of Clark early in her career, is meant to evoke the scientist’s infectious love of the ocean and the discoveries she made there, Popper said.
“She could mesmerize people when she talked about science and marine biology,” he said. “There are countless people who became scientists because of Genie.”
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