On May 4, 2022, many around the world will be thinking of one trailblazing scientist, teacher and friend—Dr. Eugenie Clark, whose 100th birthday is a day to reflect, and most of all, to look toward new horizons.
Clark, who passed away in 2015 after a lifetime of studying sharks and other fishes, is remembered not just as Mote Marine Laboratory’s founding “Shark Lady,” but as a scientist ahead of her time. Back in the 1950s, she’d already caught on that sharks are complex and fascinating rather than mindless and frightening, and that women belong in marine science fields once dominated by men. Her trailblazing mindset has led to many of Mote’s greatest impacts today and inspires our progress toward an even brighter tomorrow.
In 2022, the U.S. Postal Service is honoring Clark with a new Forever Stamp—a mini piece of art as vibrant as she was. The stamp, designed and created by Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, was featured in a November 2021 announcement from USPS that stated: “Affectionately known as the ‘Shark Lady,’ pioneering marine biologist Eugenie Clark (1922–2015) spent her career working tirelessly to change public perception about sharks as well as to preserve marine environments around the world.”
In 2022 and beyond, Mote is honoring our beloved “Genie” Clark by ensuring the great lessons she taught us continue to guide our progress:
Clark traveled a truly uncommon path, as a Japanese- American woman excelling in the male-dominated field of marine science after World War II. Today, many of the highest-impact research efforts at Mote are led by women, and one of our top priorities is to continue and expand Mote’s efforts to open doors for minority populations that are still underrepresented in marine science: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Native Pacific Islanders.
That’s the mission of our ongoing, successful, Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP): Marine Science Laboratory Alliance Center of Excellence (MarSci-LACE). Like Clark in her early years, underrepresented minority students often face societal obstacles that their peers may not encounter—for example, the subtle or overt message that they don’t belong in science due to a relative lack of minority role models in marine science. By mentoring and learning from the underrepresented-minority interns in MarSci-LACE, with support from the National Science Foundation, Mote and its partners emphasize that these students not only belong in science—they are essential to it.
CHANGE MINDS FOR THE GOOD OF CONSERVATION
Clark founded Mote in 1955 with her fisherman assistant, Beryl Chadwick, and sought to learn even more about fishes—especially sharks, a group of predatory animals feared by many. Over time, discoveries by Clark, the Mote scientists who succeeded her, and the global shark research community have revealed that sharks aren’t the mindless monsters that many imagined.
Dr. Demian Chapman, Director of Mote’s Center for Shark Research, said of Clark: “She did some amazing work on sharks, including one of the most famous experiments where she actually taught lemon sharks how to ring bells for a food reward, and that demonstrated that these animals were not just primitive, dumb brutes—they were actually quite intelligent. That really spun the narrative in this country and around the world about sharks.” Her love of sharks also helped people around the world to embrace what ongoing science revealed: Sharks play valuable roles in regulating ocean ecosystems that support us all.
RECOGNIZE THAT AN AQUARIUM VISIT CAN CHANGE A LIFE
As a child, Genie Clark loved visiting the New York Aquarium at Battery Park—one of the earliest ocean encounters that inspired her brilliant career.
Her story has inspired decades of Mote Marine Laboratory’s public education—centered since 1980 at Mote Aquarium on City Island, Sarasota, Florida. This fiscal year, Mote broke ground for our Aquarium’s rebirth—as Mote Science Education Aquarium (Mote SEA) at Nathan Benderson Park. At this nexus site for Sarasota and Manatee counties and southwest Florida overall, visitors will discover more than 1 million gallons of exhibits with marine life and scientific displays from around the world. Mote SEA will have interactive state-of-the-art STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teaching labs and ensure that annual, educational programming is available to approximately 70,000 students from Sarasota and Manatee county schools free of charge.
Most important, Mote SEA will be dedicated to Oceans for All: Improving Access to Marine Science & Technology—a key concept in Mote’s mission that has become the name of our fundraising campaign to create this iconic facility. As this fiscal year drew to a close, Mote supporters had committed $90 million toward the $130-million campaign goal, the grounds were being prepared at Nathan Benderson Park, and our completed blueprints were under review with Sarasota County—all of which is expected to enable vertical construction to begin in late 2022. As we eagerly await our Aquarium’s rebirth, the most exciting question on our minds is: If Genie’s childhood aquarium inspired her to achieve so much, what wonders will Mote SEA inspire in the next generation of scientists?