Siesta Key’s Eugenie Clark, who helped create Mote Marine, honored with United States Postal Service stamp
By Jane Bartnett
“Follow your heart.”
That was the mantra of Dr. Eugenie Clark, Siesta Key’s own “Shark Lady,” who was not only influential in the creation of Mote Marine but in how scientists would study the oceans.
On May 4, on the day that would have been Clark’s 100th birthday, the United States Postal Service unveiled a Forever Stamp bearing the likeness of a young Clark and a lemon shark, one of the species of sharks that she discovered. The ceremony, held at Mote Marine, was attended by family members, friends and those from the scientific community who knew and worked with Clark during her long, adventurous career. Clark died at home in Sarasota in 2015, at the age of 92.
The daughter of a Japanese mother and American father, Clark is recognized worldwide for her research and findings on sharks and is celebrated for opening doors of opportunity for women in science.
On hand at the ceremony were two of Clark’s four children — her son Tak Konstantinou, a real estate agent who lives and works in Sarasota, and her daughter, Aya Konstantinou, a recently retired United Airlines pilot, who also lives in Sarasota.
Speaking of her childhood and growing up on Siesta Key in the Point of Rocks area, Aya Konstantinou recalled that the family moved to Siesta Key in 1960, after Clark’s lab, known at the time as the Cape Haze Marine Lab, relocated from Cape Haze, near Englewood. It was at the Cape Haze and Siesta Key labs where Clark, an ichthyologist and oceanographer, conducted her groundbreaking studies on sharks.
“I attribute part of my success to having a successful mother,” said Konstantinou. “She was a pioneer for female scientists, researchers and scuba divers. We are so proud of her legacy as an Asian-American woman, teacher, scientist and most importantly, grandmother.”
Clark brought her four children with her on many of her explorations, and during those trips to faraway places there were often photographers, reporters and notable individuals.
“She didn’t do things to be recognized. It was amazing how hard she worked,” said her daughter.
Recalling her mother at work, she noted that Clark was equally at ease speaking to non-scientists as she was to the marine professionals whose lifework she shared.
Said Tak Konstantinou, “Some of my fondest memories from early childhood are being on Point of Rocks with my mother. There used to be a nice beach off the south end that went by the Sanderling Beach Club cabanas along where the old pass separated Siesta Key from Casey Key.”
Looking back, he said of his mother, “She was always curious, even up to the very end. I also remember being with my grandparents and learning about our Japanese culture as we visited my grandfather’s Siesta Key restaurant, called Chidori.”
Numerous visiting scientists and research students came to conduct research and work with Clark. In 1967, the Mote family became the financial supporters of the lab that had originally been supported by the Vanderbilt family. Although Clark left the laboratory in late 1968 to pursue an academic career at the University of Maryland, she maintained close connections to the research facility. In 1978, the Siesta Key lab was relocated to its current location on City Island and renamed Mote Marine.
A native of New York City, Clark’s fascination with sharks began as a child when she visited the New York Aquarium. She earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology from New York City’s Hunter College in 1942, and then completed graduate studies at New York University. She earned a master’s degree in zoology in 1946, and a Ph.D. in zoology in 1950.
To better understand sharks, the elusive creatures that she made the focus of her life’s work, she conducted more than 70 trips in high-tech submersibles, at times diving as deep as12,000 feet beneath the ocean surface. Only a small number of other marine biologists have accomplished this fete.
During her career, Clark authored three books, including her best-selling Lady with a Spear. She also wrote numerous scientific papers and lectured at close to 80 colleges and universities in the United States and abroad. A popular figure among non-scientists, she appeared in 50 documentaries and television programs.
Clark’s honors include the National Geographic Society’s Franklin L. Burr Award, the Explorers Club Medal, and the Gold Medal Award of the Society of Women Geographers.Shortly after her death, the United States Congress honored her posthumously.
In 2018, a species of dogfish shark, discovered in the Gulf of Mexico, was named in her honor and called Squalus clarkae.