Stamp of approval for the Shark Lady

Stamp showing Shark Lady Eugenie Clark
Dr Eugenie Clark is remembered on a new US postage stamp (USPS)

Few scuba divers, however celebrated within the diving community, can claim that their face has made it onto a postage stamp. Pioneering diver, crusading marine biologist and oceanographer Dr Eugenie Clark is no longer around to appreciate the moment but she has just been immortalised by the US Postal Service.

Her “forever” stamp, designed by Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, includes a photograph of the “Shark Lady” taken by David Doubilet with one of a lemon shark by German underwater photographer Reinhard Dirscherl. Forever first-class stamps are non-denominational, so remain valid whatever the current rate. 

A public first-day dedication took place at the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida on 4 May. Clark’s daughter and grandson attended the event at the establishment the diver had co-founded in 1955 as the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory.

Complicated tasks

Born in 1922, Clark spent her career “working tirelessly to change public perception about sharks as well as to preserve marine environments around the world,” stated the USPS.

In the course of more than 200 expeditions she conducted ground-breaking experiments, demonstrating that lemon sharks were able to learn to perform complicated tasks, disproving that certain shark species had to keep swimming to survive, and debunking myths about sharks’ “vicious” natures. 

She also made significant contributions to the study of hermaphroditism in fish, discovered several fish species and found that one exuded a natural shark-repellant.

“A pioneer in the era when scuba emerged as a research tool, she later took more than 70 trips in high-tech submersibles,” stated the USPS. It said she had been able to dive as deep as 3.6km in a way “that has still been done by only a small number of other marine biologists. 

“Her life and career blazed a trail for women marine biologists and continue to excite new generations of scientists and explorers.” 

Brilliant scientist

Clark had received the National Geographic Society’s Franklin L Burr Award, the Explorers Club Medal and the American Society of Oceanographers’ Medal of Excellence for her work, and after her death in 2015 was honoured by the US Congress. A newly discovered species of dogfish was named Squalus clarkae in her honour in 2018.

“One of the goals of the Postal Service’s stamp programme is to celebrate the people who represent the best of our nation and Eugenie Clark – I should say Dr Clark or the Shark Lady – certainly deserves this recognition,” said USPS delivery operations vice president Angela H Curtis.

“She was a brilliant scientist whose groundbreaking work added to our understanding of sharks and marine environments.” The postal service creates up to 30 commemorative stamps a year based on public suggestions.

Recollections of Eugenie Clark diving in the Red Sea with David Doubilet featured on Divernet recently in Howard Rosenstein’s feature Dawning Of Red Sea Dive Tourism.

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