Yet in a town governed by pirates, there are bound to be a few mermaids! Westchase Freebooters adopted the mythical creature as their symbol in 2003. Alluring sirens are so vital to their origin story, that you can find them riding along at every parade. This year, the Mermaids of Gasparilla are excited to announce a new look! Under the direction of their Captain Eric Holt, Westchase Freebooters has collaborated with Ocean’s Daughter Conservation Alliance (ODCA) to train a team of elite professional mermaids to participate in both the pirate invasion and also serve as community ambassadors throughout the year! As part of this re-branding, MerrowFins Mermaid Tails by Matthew Quijano, has customized professional grade silicone tails that are reminiscent of the Splash era while simultaneously infusing pirate imagery!
We are pleased to introduce the team of exclusive mermaids!
Dr. Blackall is proud to be training the team of Freebooter Mermaids. She is the reigning International Conservation Mermaid, and was crowned the official Mermaid of Gasparilla in 2016. She possesses a PhD in biochemistry, and a M.S. in veterinary medicine. Her primary research areas revolve around animal assisted therapy, particularly psychoneuroimmunology of dolphins. Other passions include social learning theory of killer whales, crocodilian behavior, and shark genetics. In conservation circles, she is known as the #sharkweekmermaid!
Crystal is a Florida native, and was raised in the Tampa Bay area. She is a proud graduate of the University of Tampa and is actively involved in various alumni events including homecoming activities and most recently the new entrepreneurship program and facility. She is also an ambassador for Best Buddies, the world’s largest organization dedicated to ending the social, physical, and economic isolation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She serves as a volunteer for the Gasparilla International Film Festival, and is also a sponsor of the Gasparilla Music festival.
Katie is a young professional originally hailing from New Jersey. She is loving life in Tampa Bay and enjoys environmental conservation. Her past experiences included traveling to Bimini, where she had the opportunity to swim with and learn about sharks. While there, she also participated in the Lionfish Bash, benefiting the Woody Foundation.
Kelsey is passionate about the ocean and is especially interested in global conservation efforts. She previously dedicated time to volunteering with Clearwater Marine Aquarium. She is a former competitive swimmer, and is active with IRONMAN. She enjoys participating in community events, and is extremely plugged into the Bay Area.
Allie has been instrumental in organizing the new team. She is active in the vibrant Tampa social scene and many of you will recognize her from previous parade seasons! As a young professional, she aims to defy expectations and connect with individuals from diverse backgrounds. In her downtime, she enjoys taking in local sporting events and music productions. Born and raised in Jacksonville, by way of the Midwest, she made southwest Florida her home in 2009. Allie is involved with various networking groups in the Bay Area. She is also an avid traveler!
To assist the mermaids in traveling from one event to another, they rely heavily on their “mer-handler” Greg. He is the C.F.O. of ODCA, and proud member of the Westchase Freebooters. He has a background in veterinary medicine and management, as well as a passion for sharks. Greg serves as the safety diver for all underwater activities and is also the chief videographer during research expeditions. When not in the field, he collaborates with local aquariums and assists with maintaining the tanks. Greg also works closely with dive charters and shops to educate on the importance of eco-friendly tourism.
With placement on float #7, be sure to watch for the official Mermaids of Gasparilla this Saturday! Outside of the invasion, the mermaids are available for conservation talks, public appearances, festivals, and community outreach programs.