Say hello to Squalus clarkae, otherwise known as Genie’s dogfish. This newly identified species of deepwater shark was named in honour of Eugenie Clark, a scientific pioneer who influenced an entire generation of marine biologists.
Few people have done more to improve the reputation of sharks in the public’s mind than Eugenie Clark, who died in 2015 at the age of 92.
Known as the “shark lady”, she founded the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, and was an early member of the American Elasmobranch Society.
Among her many scientific achievements, Clark discovered several new species of fish, and learned that some species of shark don’t need to swim in order to breathe. She also conducted some of the earliest research into shark behaviour, showing they’re more than just mindless killing machines.
Over the course of her career, Clark received numerous awards and honours, including a 1996 Emmy Award for her underwater films.
And now, fittingly, a newly-discovered species of shark has been named in her honour, the details of which were published this week in the science journal Zootaxa.
“She is the mother of us all,” said Florida Institute of Technology biologist Toby Daly-Engel, a co-author of the new study, in a statement. “She was not just the first female shark biologist, she was one of the first people to study sharks.”
The new shark, christened Squalus clarkae, is a member of the dogfish family, which all tend to look alike. These modestly-sized deep-sea creatures feature slow reproductive rates and low genetic diversity, making them difficult to study.
Previously, marine biologists had mistakenly conflated S. clarkae with another type of dogfish, Squalus mitsukurii. But genetic testing and a thorough analysis of its physical characteristics revealed Genie’s dogfish, as it’s also called, as a distinct species deserving of its own name.
“Deep-sea sharks are all shaped by similar evolutionary pressure, so they end up looking a lot alike,” explained Daly-Engel. “So we rely on DNA to tell us how long a species has been on its own, evolutionarily, and how different it is.”
Genie’s dogfish can be found in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the western Atlantic ocean. Compared to other dogfish, its distinguishing features include a longer body, a tighter gap between its eyes, a shorter caudal fin (its tail fin), and a differently-proportioned first dorsal fin.
“This type of research is essential to the conservation and management of sharks, which currently face a multitude of threats, from overfishing and bycatch, to the global shark fin trade,” said Mariah Pfleger, the lead author of the new study.
“Many fisheries around the world are starting to fish in deeper and deeper waters and unfortunately, much less is known about many of the creatures that live in the deep. The first step to successfully conserving these species that live in deeper waters, like Genie’s dogfish, is finding out what is down there in the first place.”
Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Eugenie Clark, who devoted her life to changing our conceptions of sharks, many people now recognise the importance of this preservation effort.