How Julia Child Helped Invent Shark Repellent

Culinary legend Julia Child was at the end of her rope. How was she going to keep American naval forces, fallen spacecraft, and strategic explosive devices safe from curious sharks as they made their way across the ocean? Then finally, after years of recipe testing, Child and her sisterhood of female spies developed the perfect antidote to shark attacks: a repellent made with copper acetate and black dye. Et voilá! The world has once again been saved by secret agent Julia Child, and the organization that would one day become the Central Intelligence Agency awards Child the "Emblem of Meritorious Civilian Service" (via History).

If that whole thing sounds like a fever dream, we've got great news for you: it's all true. Child, who we know today as the woman who made French food accessible for American home cooks, was once an agent working for the Office of Strategic Services, the government agency that would one day become the CIA. In her role as chief of the OSS registry, Child had top security clearance. Perhaps it was this training that made the chef so guarded about her recipes before they were published in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Either way, Child's brilliance was good for us, bad for sharks.

With Child in the kitchen, sharks didn't stand a chance

According to History, Julia Child had originally wanted to join the military effort when World War II broke out, but because she was 6-foot-2, the Women's Army Corps deemed the chef too tall and rejected her. It was the Office of Strategic Services that saw Child's potential and not her height: she was hired as a research assistant in the Secret Intelligence division and went from strength to strength at the agency. After typing up declassified government files, Child was eventually promoted to executive assistant to Captain Harold J. Coolidge, the scientist who first put Child on the shark case.

In the OSS Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section, she and her team tried out more than 100 substances and conducted a year-long field test, attempting to determine the best shark-repelling material for the military's underwater operations. Eventually, the perfect recipe came along: copper acetate and black dye, which together produced a "dead shark" odor that discouraged curious man-eaters from getting too close, according to The National WWII Museum. "I must say we had lots of fun," Child said in an interview with a fellow officer about her time at the OSS. And if anyone can make decaying shark smells and secret marine operations fun, it's definitely Julia Child.