Dr. Eugenie Clark has what may be the most difficult job in the history of public relations.
The barbaric truth is that most people would prefer to main -- or even kill -- one of Clark's clients.
Clark's mission knows no political or geographic bounds. Rather, she must bear her cause over at least five continents and even through the murky twilights of the seven seas. So it was only natural that the diminutive doctor of zoology came yesterday to Washington -- where PR stratagems are known to flourish -- to decry the plight of her long-suffering client, the shark.
No creature on earth has a worse and perhaps less deserved reputation than the shark," says Clark. "A lot of thrashing and bobbing at the surface [of the sea] sets up vibrations a shark can detect. But 99.9 percent of them will go away when they see an object as large as a human."
Like all good flacks, she has succeeded in spreading her message among the powerful. She says she got to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat through his son, Gorbal, a diving enthusiast. Clark says she and Sadat made a deal: He'd try to protect the sharks around the Sinai Peninsula from hunters if she'd protect Gorbal from the sharks.
"Everybody likes to be scared. I loved 'Jaws,' the movie and the book," Clark says. "But you have to separate the truth. You can make a horror story out of a car wreck, but that doesn't have the glamor of being eaten alive by a monstrous fish."
And sharks, Clark says, just aren't going to eat you alive. Even the Great White, "Jaws"-style, isn't going to pay you any mind unless you bribe it with some blood, offal and tuna.
In short, Clark says, don't be afraid if a shark is circling you on your surfboard. Just don't move.
"Unless you were attracting it, a Great White would probably ignore you," Clark says with nonchalance acquired by staring down the gullets of a few.
To further her cause and the extant research on sharks, Clark has documented her considerable diving experiences which began 26 years ago, in the upcoming issue of the National Geographic magazine.
The article is one facet of Clark's campaign to change the image of sharks. But she's got a long road to hoe.
The crusade continues, from Washington to Los Angeles, where she'll work with National Geographic filmmakers on an upcoming television show about her pelagic friends. Then she'll carry the torch across India and Egypt. And finally, back to the University of Maryland where, in addition to her normal work load, she'll teach a course on the subject and spread the word.
Just don't move.