Mote's 'Shark Lady' embarking on a journey to the Red Sea

SARASOTA, Fla. - Dr. Eugenie Clark is heading for the Red Sea on Monday. She's leading a diving exhibition from Mote Marine Laboratory, made up of scientists and some Suncoast residents who are just interested in learning about the marine life there.

Dr. Clark has been on more than 30 Red Sea diving exhibitions, but this one is special; the founding director of Mote will celebrate her 92nd birthday on this trip.

"She's the lady that had the passion for science that really gave birth to Mote," says Mote president Dr. Michael Crosby.

And it all came about because of her research and writings about the wonders of diving in the Red Sea. She's been diving there since 1950, and was the first scientist to go underwater to study the marine life there.

Her work attracted international attention. "We did a whole series of articles for National Geographic; everybody was so hungry for knowledge about the Red Sea," says Dr. Clark.

Her 1953 best-selling book Woman With A Spear got the attention of the Vanderbilts, and they invited her to their place in Placida to talk about Red Sea fishes. "All the fishermen came. I had a tremendous audience, and they said you ought to start a little center where you can answer all these questions."

That ‘little center’, with just her and fisherman Burl Shadwick, was the beginning of Mote Marine Lab. The first day it opened, a medical researcher called, asking if she could catch him a shark to study. "I said to Burl ‘you don't know how to catch a shark, do you?’ And he said ‘I've been a fisherman for 15 years, of course I can catch a shark.’"

They caught 15 sharks, and she was fascinated by them. "It formed the beginning of a study that has gone on on why don't sharks don't get malignant cancers."

She became known around the world as the ‘Shark Lady.’ She's won the Legend of the Sea award and countless others, and even now she still works at Mote several days a week.

And she's not about to hang up her flippers.