CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) — Two women who were “accidentally” recorded while changing at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium are speaking out and blasting the aquarium’s handling of the situation.
Caroline Don and Ashley Mengel are now reaching out on social media and telling their story. Both were performing at the aquarium as mermaids working with the Blue Mermaid Designs group in December of 2020 when they were recorded changing their outfits.
Don says she’s speaking out to protect other women from becoming victims.
“We were silent before when these kinds of things have happened to us and we never want to be silent again,” Don said. “Because they shouldn’t be able to just get away with it.”
Mengel feels the same.
“I think right now I want to make sure that the women who work for them are safe,” she said. “And I don’t know that I have that feeling for them right now.”
CMA issued a statement in August, saying in part, “the Clearwater Marine Aquarium today announced that an independent investigation determined that in 2020 one of the facility’s security cameras accidentally recorded a group of female workers as they changed clothes. The workers, all adults, were using a room that was not usually used for changing clothes and that a camera monitoring the room was inadvertently left on and not immediately noticed.”
Two executives who were working at the aquarium are no longer there. One resigned and another stepped down.
Lisa Oliver, the aquarium’s chief operating officer, says there is an upcoming meeting with the performers to discuss what happened.
“We acknowledge that there have been some missteps. We want to take action. We want to make sure that we do better,” said Oliver. “We want to make sure that we have the opportunity to hear the mermaids.”
Mengel and Don don’t believe that’s good enough. Don claims the aquarium didn’t initially reveal that they had been recorded.
“We did not find out through the aquarium. The aquarium didn’t tell us,” said Don. “The whistleblower who told the board of directors told us.”
Mengel doesn’t feel CMA took the issue very seriously.
“It’s making it worse that I felt like a joke throughout this whole thing,” said Mengel. “I felt like I was cast aside. I felt like nobody at that aquarium was listening to us.”
After the two women shared their stories on TikTok and other social media platforms, Clearwater Marine Aquarium released another statement saying they’re “committed to making meaningful change.”
Full statement from CMA:
“Clearwater Marine Aquarium and our Board of Directors are committed to making meaningful change in light of the troubling concerns recently brought to us on social media.
When new leadership came onboard at CMA after this situation became known, it was assumed this issue had been resolved. Our Board worked with Carlton Fields, a reputable firm in Tampa, to launch an internal investigation. Those findings were then verbally shared with the Board and as a result, preventative measures were taken to ensure such an incident could not happen again. It is now very clear to us that those steps taken were not enough.
We are engaging in conversations with the original company and their team to plan an in-person meeting so we can hear their story, begin the healing process, and respect their voices.
We are taking a deep look into this situation and giving it the attention it deserves. Our priority is to rebuild trust and become a model for a safe and supportive work environment for everyone.”