In honor of International Women’s Day earlier this week, let’s explore a newly found shark species named after an incredible female conservationist and marine biologist, Eugenie Clark! In 2018, a team of marine biologists, discovered a new shark species off of the Gulf of Mexico. This shark, Genie’s dogfish, Squalus clarkae, was named after the accomplished female marine biologist Eugenie Clark. Let’s dive in and learn more about Eugenie, Genie’s dogfish, and the incredible work Clark pioneered during her years in marine science.
All About Clark
Photo Source: Mote Laboratory
Eugenie Clark was an incredible shark conservationist. She received a well-earned nickname of “shark lady,” and spent a life diving in the ocean and learning about sharks. She lived 92 beautiful years dedicating her life to studying shark behavior.
Ashley Gallagher from Smithsonian Ocean says, “Clark’s research changed the way we view sharks today, and her deep dives have given us insight into the world around us.”
Eugenie was born and raised in New York and was one of very few Japanese students in her community at the time. This would not be the first time she was “one of very few” as she embarked on a lifelong journey as a female scientist in a male-dominated field. At a very young age, she took a strong interest in the ocean and learning about marine creatures. Her father died when she was very young, and her mother worked at a newspaper stand in the city. Eugenie went to the aquarium every weekend where she furthered her love, fascination, and appreciation of marine life.
Eugenie attended Hunter College and got a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology. Afterwards, she pursued and earned a Master of Arts and Doctorate of Zoology from New York University. She became an experienced scuba diver and conducted much of her behavioral observations and research from her dives. She was a pioneer for scuba diving research, as well as shark behavior. She completed her final scuba dive at 92 years of age in the year before she passed away.
Photo Source: New York Times
Eventually, Eugenie inspired Anne and William Vanderbilt to build a laboratory in Florida for her research. This laboratory is called the Mote Marine Laboratory (Smithsonian). The laboratory is located in Sarasota off the Gulf of Mexico, close to where Genie’s dogfish was discovered.
More About Mote
As we just learned, Mote Marine Laboratory (previously named Cape Haze Marine Laboratory) was founded by Eugenie Clark and funded by the Vanderbilt family. Kumar Mahadevan details the history behind the laboratory and writes about the circumstances in which the Vanderbilt family read Eugenie Clark’s book, Lady With A Spear, and approached Clark with the idea of the laboratory. Mahadevan writes, “Dr. Clark was intrigued, and before half a year was over, in January 1955 she, her orthopedic surgeon husband, and two baby daughters moved to Placida, FL. The original Cape Haze Marine Laboratory was a little one-room building, placed on skids for easy removal, equipped with one sink and a few shelves for specimens.”
This laboratory was more than a station for research, but a bridge between sharks’ reputations and humans eager to learn. Outside of her science background, Clark was an advocate and an educator. She often taught guests more about sharks and helped dispel a lot of myths and misunderstandings based on fear. Today, the Mote Laboratory has grown immensely and thrives off of its mission involving guardianship of the sea, a variety of research with over 20 programs, education for all ages, and conservation of marine wildlife.
Genie’s Dogfish, Squalus clarkae
Photo Source: Mar Alliance
Now that we have seen the awe inspiring life that Eugenie Clark led, and just a small fraction of her influence on shark conservation...let’s learn about this shark named after her! Genie’s dogfish, Squalus clarkae, is a deep sea shark officially classified and discovered in 2018 by Daly-Engel, Mariah Pfleger, Chip Cotton, and Dean Grubbs.
Originally, the shark was classified as the dogfish shark Squalus mitsukurii. However, using DNA testing, it became reclassified and announced as a new species in 2018 (USA Today). A lot of features and behavior are similar to other dogfish sharks, but Genie’s dogfish has a longer body and different proportions of fins (Pfleger via Oceana). Mariah Pfleger describes her discovery, the influence Clark had on her, and a bit of the logistics of Genie’s dogfish in her blogpost from Oceana here.
Since this species is relatively new, there is not a lot of information known about their specific behavior at this time. Marine scientists are finding that studying deep sea species is important to their conservation, and increasingly difficult in the vast deep sea. I hope you feel inspired by Eugenie Clark, and can appreciate female marine biologists such as Mariah Pfleger for making progress, discoveries, and empowering women in science!
Written By: Bailey Higa