Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Goodbye to a hero of science

You can say"heroine" if you want, but I like Sigourney Weaver's argument that a "heroine" is someone who needs rescuing, while the hero is a person who does the rescuing.  Dr. Eugenie Clark tried to rescue the entire ocean system of the planet Earth. The "Shark Lady" was a pioneer of marine biology and exploration, a pathfinder expanding women's role in science, a tireless advocate for conservation, and the woman who brought sharks out of the shadows and showed us how complex and fascinating these "mindless killers" really are.
Clark was born in 1922, of mixed American and Japanese parents.  She grew up in a time when it was hard to be a woman with professional ambitions and even harder to be half-Japanese.  Still, she had a fascination with marine life early on, and her hero was the conservationist and bathyscaphe explorer William Beebe.  By 1950 she was a Ph.D. in marine biology. She had already done her early field work in the South Pacific, where she learned what an important resource local fishermen could be, and at the famed Scripps Institute and the American Museum of Natural History.
That was only the beginning for Dr. Clark.  She published breakthrough work on sharks in professional journals as well as books for popular audiences (I still have an ancient copy of her first, Lady with a Spear),  She was founder and  director of the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory (now the Mote Marine Laboratory)  for shark studies. She took Peter Benchley diving after he published Jaws and helped persuade him to do conservation work to help offset the damage the novel and film have done to sharks. She won an Emmy for her underwater films, cruised with Jacques Cousteau on the Calypso, and taught marine biology at the University of Maryland from 1968 to 1992.  She won countless accolades for her nonstop work on sharks, marine life in general, education, and conservation. Her endless curiosity led to her down such avenues as marine paleontology, riding a 50-foot whale shark, and becoming a founding board member of the International Society of Cryptozoology.

Fair winds and following seas.

Photo More Marine Laboratory

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