Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist
By Jess Keating
Illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns
“Sharks were not mindless killers. Sharks were beautiful. Sharks were smart. They deserved to be studied, protected, and loved.”
Shark Lady is a biography of Dr. Eugenie Clark (1922-2015), nicknamed the Shark Lady, a renowned American ichthyologist who researched sharks. Clark’s love of sharks was inspired by a visit to the New York Aquarium as a little girl. Soon later, she joined the Queens County Aquarium Society as its youngest member. Eugenie spent her childhood reading and writing about sharks and was gifted a small aquarium that made her apartment feel like the ocean. When Eugenie went to college, her professors thought women weren’t smart enough to be scientists but Eugenie studied hard and became one of the smartest women in her field. The common wisdom of the day held that sharks were ugly, mindless killers but Eugenie thought otherwise. During her career, Eugenie found three new species of fish, discovered a rare six-gilled shark, and developed “shark repellent” substance derived from flatfish to protect divers. In Isla Mujeres, she discovered a cave of sleeping sharks—dispelling the belief that sharks must always be moving to stay alive—and she was brave when diving with wild sharks, which earned her the nickname “the Shark Lady.” A strong advocate for marine conservation and the first scientist to study sharks, she also trained sharks to prove that they were intelligent. The book ends with a spread of shark facts and with the timeline of Eugenie Clark’s life.
An accessible biography of a pioneering scientist and naturalist, Shark Lady invites students to consider human responsibility toward marine conservation, wildlife conservation and habitat protection at the time of the Sixth Extinction. While not directly mentioning biodiversity loss or climate change, the book shows how Clark’s determination to learn more about sharks and raise consciousness about their role in marine ecosystems challenged societal ignorance that had condemned sharks as monsters to be exterminated. Today, sharks are still being hunted—their populations are in rapid decline and about 25% of shark species are their threatened with extinction—so Clark’s conservation efforts matter even more. Given that sharks are apex predators in marine ecosystems, the book can be used to introduce the concept of trophic cascades. It can also be used to meet state standard benchmarks relating to regional climates, Earth’s resources, animal survival strategies, and scientific investigation, all at the elementary level. This story details how and why Eugenie Clark loved sharks, her determination to learn about them, and many interesting shark facts. These facts lend to great vocabulary knowledge and educators could use this section to improve student vocabulary skills. Álvarez Miguéns’ bright, colorful illustrations provide beautiful accompaniments to Eugenie’s imagination and underwater exploration. As a biography, this story can engage and inspire children, especially young girls, to pursue STEM interests. It also communicates, as Keating says in the Author’s Note, that “Eugenie’s belief in protecting the earth’s species—no matter how different they are from us—is needed now more than ever.” With its ecofeminist themes, Shark Lady would be a great text to accompany Women’s History Month (or even the often-trending Discovery Channel’s Shark Week during summer programming). The story shows exactly what Eugenie Clark aspired to do: that sharks are not scary monsters but important species who deserve to be studied and celebrated.
©2023 ClimateLit (Kaylin Burton)
The author’s Youtube which has videos about sharks and writing videos for kids: https://www.youtube.com/@Jess_Keating/videos
Activities to accompany Shark Lady curriculum: https://www.thecurriculumcorner.com/thecurriculumcorner123/book-study-shark-lady/
The Mote Marine Laboratory where Clark served as Chair for Scientific Research: https://mote.org/
Topics: Animal Survival Strategies, Biodiversity Loss, Conservation, Ecofeminism, Habitat Preservation, Ichthyologists, Marine Conservation, Marine Ecosystems, Natural Resources, Oceans, Predators, Regional Climates, Scientific Investigation, Sharks, Sixth Extinction, Trophic Cascade