Friday, December 1, 2017

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became The World's Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating

This beautiful picture book tells the story of a young girl named Eugenie Clark who was so fascinated by sharks and that she devoted her life to learning more about them. Eugenie was born in 1922 at a time when a career in science was not considered a reasonable choice for a lady. Eugenie's love affair with sharks began with a trip to the Battery Park Aquarium one Saturday afternoon.

Life was challenging for the young Eugenie. Her father died when she was only two years old. Because she was of Japanese-American heritage; her father was American, her mother Japanese, Eugenie sometimes experienced bullying and racism. However, Eugenie used these difficult experiences to forge a determined spirit that was to help her in her studies in the male dominated science disciplines.

Eugenie Clark
Fascinated by the underwater world of the oceans, Eugenie continued to visit the aquarium every weekend, to learn as much as she could about the fish she saw in the tanks. When Eugenie informed her parents that she wanted to become an explorer like William Beebe, a famous naturalist and marine biologist, her parents suggested she consider working for someone like Beebe as a secretary.

Undaunted, Eugenie attended Hunter College where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Zoology. Eugenie was able to undertake post graduate studies at New York University after being refused entry to Columbia. The department head refused her application fearing she would leave her research to raise a family. Dr. CharlesBreder Jr., a renowned ichthyologist guided Eugenie's research at New York University. In 1950, Eugenie earned her Ph.D for her research on platies and swordtails.

Not only was Eugenie determined but she showed courage too. On her first dive when she was a research assistant at Scripps Institute of Oceanography Eugenie used a helmet and face mask. During the dive,  a diving hose ruptured. Unable to breathe, Eugenie removed the helmet and surfaced. Despite this frightening experience, Eugenie did a second dive shortly after and many more. In fact, diving became a part of her work as a scientist and when scuba gear was invented, Eugenie used it for her dives.

Eugenie helped to found the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory in Placida, Florida in 1955. It moved several times; to Siesta Key and Sarasota. In 1967, it was renamed the Mote Marine Laboratory.

Eugenie became interested in studying sharks after receiving a request from a cancer researcher to capture sharks for a study. With the construction of a live shark pen, Eugenie had access to sharks and surprisingly she was able to train them to push a button for food. This countered the belief at the time that sharks were mindless monsters of the ocean, intent on seeking out food only. Eventually Eugenie became more and more interested in sharks, studying them in the wild, and advocating for their protection.

Eventually Eugenie joined the faculty at the University of Maryland and became a full professor in 1973. Eugenie made several interesting discoveries in her research. She discovered a that a type of flatfish named the Red Sea Moses sole secretes a substance that repels sharks. On a dive into caves in Mexico to investigate sharks who lay motionless, Eugenie theorized that they do so to shed parasites. Eugenie and her team also discovered that whale sharks live birth to live young. 

Jess Keating and Marta Alvarez Miguens have crafted a delightful picture book that tells Eugenie's life story. Miguens colourful illustrations, done using Adobe Photoshop capture in an imaginative way, Eugenie Clark's intense interest in life in the oceans. There is a section at the back, titled Shark Bites that offers unusual facts about sharks and a colourful time line of Eugenie's life, highlighting her major accomplishments. In her Author's Note, Keating indicates that she wanted to tell Eugenie Clark's story because of her determination to follow her childhood dream of becoming a scientist. Eugenie did not let anyone or anything deter her.

Book Details:

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became The World's Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating

Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky   2017

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