A performer doing a mermaid routine.

@ladyelora/TikTok

‘They have not supported us’: Mermaid performer speaks out against aquarium for alleged sexual harassment in viral TikToks (updated)

'We were cast aside without warning after many, many reassurances.'

 

Charlotte Colombo

IRL

Posted on Feb 26, 2022   Updated on Feb 28, 2022, 10:12 am CST

A mermaid performer has gone viral on TikTok after speaking out against an aquarium for “failing to do right” by her and her colleagues in an ongoing sexual harassment case.

The user, who goes by the stage name Elora, first posted a TikTok about her experience with Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Florida, on Feb. 12, with the video amassing over 7 million views. In the TikTok, Elora claims that she felt prompted to speak out after “learn[ing] through social media that the aquarium will no longer be working with us.”

She then goes on to explain how she and the rest of her mermaid troupe worked as contractors for the aquarium in December 2020 and summer 2021. “While working the events, we were given their dolphin medical suite to change in and take breaks between sets,” she said. “This suite is located directly at the top of the dolphin tanks and there’s a security camera inside it. We were assured multiple times in December that that camera was turned off for the duration of our event. And at first it was.”

@ladyelora Part 1: Speaking out about what happened to us as performers at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. #MeToo #NoMore ♬ original sound – ladyelora

However, she claims that partway through December 2020, the cameras were turned back on by the then-Vice President of Operations and Zoological Care Mike Hurst. According to Elora, the camera “recorded several days of us changing inside that suite,” with Hurst later showing the footage to CEO Frank Dame and then attempting to show it to former Operations Director Chris Dalton.

Speaking to Tampa Bay Times, Dalton said when he returned to work after time off on Jan. 4, 2021, he found Hurst watching a video of the women in his office. He claimed that Hurst told him he had already shown it to CEO Frank Dame, and tried to get him to watch it, but he declined. In an email obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, which was reportedly sent by Dalton to the Chairman of the Aquarium’s Board of Directors, Dalton claims he was threatened by Hurst after he declined to watch the videos. He said Hurst told him “if I ever told anyone about Frank [Dame] and him watching the videos, then he would fire me.”

“I didn’t have anyone I felt I could go to,” Dalton told the outlet. “I had this burden on me for six months.”

Dalton reportedly alerted the incident to the Aquarium’s Chairman, Paul Auslander, right before he was set to leave Florida for a new job. He said he had been afraid to disclose information while he was in the aquarium’s “toxic work environment.” According to the Tampa Bay Times, Paul Auslander hired a law firm to complete an internal investigation into the aquarium upon receiving Dalton’s email on June 14, 2021. Hurst resigned during the investigation.

In her TikTok, Elora claimed that she and her fellow employees were privately made aware of the incident by Chris Dalton and his spouse in June 2021, shortly before he left the company and revealed the incident to Auslander. Following their contract with the aquarium in December, Elora says that the group were quickly re-hired to do a second event in the summer of 2021. She explains in the TikTok that after being informed about the recording by Dalton, they “decided to move forward with the event in hopes that the aquarium would come to us about the incident and what was going to be done.”

Elora then continued her side of her story in a second TikTok, which has amassed over half a million views since it was posted. In this video, Elora said that she and her colleagues completed their second contract in summer 2021—although they weren’t told why the camera was removed from their changing area.

@ladyelora Part 2: Speaking out about what happened to us as performers at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. #MeToo #NoMore ♬ dance(256762) – TimTaj

She continued, “At the end of the event, they began making plans with us to contract another December [2021] event. This event never came to pass and no contract was signed because they stated that they needed to keep the funds in case of a lawsuit.”

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the internal investigation into the aquarium concluded in August 2021, with Auslander telling the outlet that the investigation concluded that the footage was captured “accidentally and unintentionally.”

In her second TikTok, Elora said that following the investigation’s conclusion, her and her colleagues met Auslander. “They offered counselling services and to provide us with the findings from their attorneys,” she said. “We never saw these findings. They refuse to involve the police and considered the matter resolved as they had not found any traces of recordings elsewhere […]  But at that point, it had been nearly seven months [since the recordings were first discovered].”

Elora added that while she and her colleagues involved the police independently, “the investigation went nowhere” due to how much time had elapsed.

“[The aquarium] repeatedly said that the recordings were an accident, they assured us that they stood by us and that this would not affect our work with them,” she said.

https://twitter.com/theladyelora/status/1492228394003673095

She continued: “Clearwater Marine Aquarium has not stood by us. They have not supported us. We were victims of a crime committed by their employees who were able to resign with severance packages. And then we were cast aside without warning after many, many reassurances.”

She said her group was replaced in an upcoming performance while they were awaiting news about booking the gig. Elora claims she found out about this through a Facebook post. Since the two TikToks went viral, Elora spoke to the Daily Dot, confirming that she and her colleagues are set to meet representatives from the aquarium on Feb. 28.

“The impact [of the incident] has been indescribable,” she said. “It’s terrifying, I feel violated, angry and upset. I’ve had sexual trauma in my past and it brought all of those feelings up again. It took a while to process what had even happened.”

In the TikToks where Elora has spoken out about her and her colleagues’ experience, the comments have been flooded with messages of support and solidarity. But it seems that she isn’t the only one with a story.

Elora told the Daily Dot that since her TikToks went viral, “several” former employees have gotten in touch with her to “share their stories of sexual assault and harassment” while working at the aquarium.

“Some of these incidents were by the same people who did this to us, and some by other men at the aquarium,” she said. “Of the situations we were told, the victims reported to HR and nothing was done. They were shrugged off. In one case, the victims were let go. It feels like this is a large problem within the aquarium that they don’t take seriously and would rather sweep under the rug. It makes us incredibly glad to have spoken out now.”

Elora is continuing to post regular TikTok updates about the situation since her two initial videos blew up on Feb. 12.

@ladyelora Reply to @ladyelora Update on CMA recording incident. Thank you so much everyone ❤ Keep speaking up. Keep listening to others. #MeToo #NoMore #JusticeForMermaids ♬ Sunset Lover – Petit Biscuit

In a statement to the Daily Dot, Chief Operating Officer Lisa Oliver said, “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.”

Paul Auslander and Frank Dame did not immediately respond the Daily Dot’s request for comment via email. Mike Hurst also did not immediately respond the Daily Dot’s request for comment via Facebook direct message. The Daily Dot was unable to contact Chris Dalton.

This post has been updated with a direct statement from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.


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*First Published: Feb 26, 2022, 11:13 am CST