On meeting Dr. Eugenie for the first time women are apt to exclaim, "Your work must be fascinating," or, "How young you look!" Since there is some truth in them, both these platitudes are worth examining. Recently reviewing the six "fascinating" weeks she spent studying pipefish and seahorses in the Red Sea in 1960, Dr. Eugenie reckoned that she was in the water she loves only four hours a day. She spent eight hours a day poring over books and papers (more than 100), dissecting, preserving and labeling important specimens and counting the body and tail rings, the spines and rays of the dorsal, pectoral, pelvis, anal and caudal fins of more than 1,000 fish. After making a thorough inventory of the soft working parts of a single fish that has been lying around for a day or so, most ladies who coo about the fascination would not want to see any fish again, saut�ed, marinated or bottled in Formalin.
As for Dr. Eugenie's apparent youth, to be a trifle cruel but honest, at age 43 she seems to have her adipose tissue under control but there are a few gray hairs on her dark head. Her air of youth and her prolonged fascination with the sea are easy to explain. She has somehow acquired the persevering, probing mind of a doctor of science without losing the ordinary wonder of a child. On her first visit to the island of Guam as a stripling scientist studying poisonous fish for the Navy, she observed, "Every room with screen windows had a display of feeding lizards at night." Since lizards are not in their line, other ichthyologists would have left the matter there, but not Dr. Eugenie. She added girlishly, "These charming geckos, with large catlike eyes, long tails and suction-padded toes—darting across the screen to capture insects on their sticky, elastic tongues—were as common as houseflies back home."
Because she was raised in the warrens of New York City, where beauty is hard to find, Dr. Eugenie is possibly now sensitized to it. In any case, she has seen the last green flash of a Melanesian sunset and finds equal beauty in the humble guts of fish. Although she sticks to the bone-dry facts in her technical papers, when communicating with ordinary people Dr. Eugenie tends to be lyrical. In her published memoirs, Lady with a Spear, addressing the general public on the subject of small filefish she noted, "A light squeeze of their abdomens and hundreds of translucent, sparkling, emerald eggs oozed out, like tiny beads of mint jelly." The real world of Dr. Eugenie has always been filled with characters as intriguing as any in Lewis Carroll's Wonderland. While studying fish on Saipan she was befriended by a Navy couple, Commander and Mrs. Fletcher Sheffield, who had a pet fruit bat. The Sheffields' bat had a disturbing way of practicing carrier landings on the dinner table or emerging from the floral centerpiece and careening around, squeaking to get its bearings. This behavior set many of the Sheffields' guests on edge, but Dr. Eugenie was utterly charmed. "It had a wingspread of over two feet," she reported in her memoirs. "It was a dark, blackish brown, and when it hung fairly motionless (as it often did) on a lamp, side table, or back of a wooden-framed chair, it so blended with the furniture that visitors wouldn't notice it at first. But it was a curious bat. If you stood or sat near it, it would look you over carefully, wiggling its ears at every sound you made, and then quietly and carefully, it would stretch out a wing to feel you. If you offered no resistance, you would soon find the fellow hanging upside down from your shoulder and looking up into your face."
Dr. Eugenie is today a recognized authority on the plectognath fishes, a rather disparate order that includes the filefishes, the triggerfishes, the bizarre boxfishes, the common puffers and the giant ocean sunfishes. All told, the plectognaths are a bunch of oddballs, but there is not a bad actor in the lot, except possibly one triggerfish that has developed the cruel trick of first rendering its victim helpless by eating out its eyes. Many of Dr. Eugenie's papers, on the plectognaths, on the sexual behavior of various fishes and on the care and training of sharks, are heady stuff. The titles of some of her works are enough to stop an ordinary reader in his tracks. The work for her doctor's degree, which was supported in part by the Atomic Energy Commission, was published under the title Mating Behavior Patterns in Two Sympatric Species of Xiphophorin Fishes: Their Inheritance and Significance in Sexual Isolation. Ichthyologists have nicknamed this work "The Little Kinsey Report," but any reader tempted to wade into it on that frivolous count is hereby warned: the bottom drops away fast. Before he finishes the first page, anyone not steeped in ichthyological gabble is out well over his head.
In a curious way Lady with a Spear, Dr. Eugenie's popular account of her early years, has done as much to further the science of ichthyology as any of her technical works. In 1953, the first year of publication, Lady with a Spear was read by Mrs. William Vanderbilt, who passed it on to her husband and to his brother Alfred. The Vanderbilts were so taken by it that they considered starting a marine lab in Cape Haze, Fla., and Dr. Eugenie Clark, the original lady with a spear, was asked to become the director. After weighing the challenge and her own inadequacies, she took the job. It was not much of a lab at first: a single room, some shelves, two chairs, a table and cold running water. There were facilities to keep a number of fish comfortable, but Dr. Eugenie and her assistant, a fisherman named Beryl Chadwick, had to drive half a mile to a washroom.
"Before I met Eugenie," Beryl Chadwick remembers, "my idea of a biologist was somebody serious with gray hair and long degrees. When I first saw her I was so surprised you could have put that potted plant in my mouth. But she knew what she was doing, and she never knew when to quit—absolutely no sense of time or tide. When Eugenie was expecting one of her children—I forget which one—she kept right on diving. She was as round as a puffer fish, and every time we went out I kept fearing she was going to drop that child right in the water." Harking back to the early days, Chadwick is never sure whether the fish or the scientists who came to study them were the more fascinating. There was, for example, an Englishman named Perks, interested in shark hormones but accustomed to working on little dogfish. On his first day of duty Perks reported dressed head to foot in white, immaculate enough for a match on the center court at Wimbledon. As Chadwick recalls, after one slice into the bloody carcass of a man-sized shark Perks looked as if he had been working on the disassembly line at an abattoir. Then there was the Penner family—a parasitologist from the University of Connecticut, his wife and six kids. The ultimate in togetherness, the Penners would line up like washerwomen at a riverbank, each with a separate pail of water, each washing a different organ of a shark in search of parasites.
Although the Cape Haze lab has now moved from its original location on Cape Haze to a better site on a sandy marsh fronting the Gulf at Sarasota, a good bit of the research still involves sharks, for good reason. There are a large number and variety of sharks in the Gulf, and the lab has always had fishermen like Chadwick who can catch them—an accomplishment that is not so much derring-do as simple, old-fashioned know-how. At Cape Haze scientists can count on getting specimens, and there are an increasing number interested in studying the shark order, not only because it includes bad actors but more often because there always seems to be something new and promising to be found in the primitive shark physiology. At present at Cape Haze there is research under way on the very efficient low-pressure circulatory system of the shark and on new magic derived from its outsize liver that may possibly serve in the fight against cancer and other diseases. On and off for a number of years Dr. Eugenie has been training sharks, teaching them to go through mazes and to poke specific targets with their noses to earn their food. Her object is not to try to train sharks to entertain or serve man, as porpoises are now doing, but simply to find out the capabilities of an enemy of long standing. It is becoming more and more obvious to Dr. Eugenie and to scientists the world over who are collaborating in the study of the shark that, although the shark may be neatly categorized by family, genus and species, even within a species there are differences in behavior. By reputation sharks are witless, nerveless, uncomplicated. If this is so, then why did one lemon shark, at first sight of a yellow panel presented to it by Dr. Eugenie, suddenly rear up as if trying a backflip, then swim erratically around, refusing to eat until it died? Statistically the tiger shark is a nasty fellow. That being so, how do you account for the 10�-foot tiger that would waggle its way into the shallows of the Cape Haze pen and beach itself to take food like a puppy dog? By reputation the nurse shark is a bottom-hugging, live-and-let-live sluggard. After one nurse shark had existed peaceably in the Cape Haze pen for some weeks, why, then, did it unexpectedly surface and bite off the end of Beryl Chadwick's finger? It is obvious that sharks in their own slow way do adapt and can learn. If any bunch of them ever learns what an easy mark the fleshy legs of bathers, water skiers and snorkelers really are, well, look out, everybody.
Naturally, if you have an attractive lady biologist who dives into the sea in the course of her work and if some of her work involves very large sharks, as simple as two plus two you have good news copy. The flashier press has occasionally poked into Dr. Eugenie's doings with headlines such as BATHING BEAUTY RISKS HER LIFE FOR SCIENCE, thus suggesting that Dr. Eugenie is down there, spear in hand, slaying sharks left and right. To put the record straight, in her whole life in the sea she has speared only one shark. She was snorkeling in four feet of water off her Sarasota home, spied a four-foot nurse shark, coolly put a spear through one fin to pin it to the bottom, then seized it by the tail and hauled it off to the lab.
If Dr. Eugenie is not—as Beryl Chadwick put it—serious and gray-haired with long degrees, possibly it is because, running late as usual, she simply has not found the time to age properly. About seven years ago, while raising funds for the laboratory, she stopped by the office of a Florida foundation that had a reputation for generosity. The foundation director, the southern-colonel type, listened attentively while she made an earnest pitch about the lab's work in training sharks to nuzzle panels to earn their food. After hearing her out the director declared, "Well, girlie, that really isn't very much. You should see what they've taught porpoises to do over at Marineland." Dr. Eugenie then spoke a bit about work on the barracuda, another beastie that usually sparks interest, but it was obvious that she and the director were operating on different frequencies (he thought a barracuda was something like an alligator). Though unimpressed by the lab's progress, the director was touched by Dr. Eugenie's earnestness. As she rose to leave, he had an afterthought. "By the way, girlie," he asked, "have you been to college?"
"Yes," replied Dr. Eugenie, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., "I have."