After stranding in Long Island Sound in 2000, weighing just 6 pounds and suffering from an infected left front flipper, Calypso was rescued by the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation. The amputation surgery that saved her life also deemed her non-releasable, and in 2002, she came to live at the National Aquarium.
In her estimated 22-year-long life, Calypso became a significant figure in the lives of many. Her story of perseverance and hope, paired with her peaceful presence in the water, inspired staff members and guests for years.
When the news broke that Calypso had unexpectedly died earlier this week, our community was shocked and heartbroken.
“Calypso was the steadfast ambassador of her species in Baltimore,” said Jennie Janssen, assistant curator of Blue Wonders. For many, watching Calypso effortlessly glide through Blacktip Reef sparked a lifelong interest in conservation and oceanography.
Guests of all ages delighted in racing to spot Calypso as she made her rounds, and many parents shared with us via Facebook that coming to visit her at the Aquarium became a cherished family tradition.
The staff who cared for Calypso got to know her through everyday interactions. They described her as curious, perceptive, and a little bit of a diva—she loved checking out new divers when they got in the water, and often snuck up on them in pursuit of attention.
Allan Kottyan, senior aquarist, and Allison Potter, ADSO/volunteer coordinator, both noted how she loved to have her shell scratched by divers. Jackie Cooper, senior ADSO/training coordinator, worked with Calypso for over 15 years and speculates that she enjoyed it so much because it felt like being cleaned by a cleaner fish. The enormity of Calypso’s size—nearly 500 pounds!—was realized in moments like this; flanked by a human, it became clear just how big she was.
Shell scratches weren’t the only physical interactions that Calypso sought from divers. Ashleigh Clews, Animal Care and Rescue Center curator, began working at the Aquarium as an aquarist over 15 years ago. She recalled that often, the moment she entered into Blacktip Reef, Calypso would swim over and get so close that she would be laying her entire body on Ashleigh!
Beth Claus, senior aquarist, had a similar story: She said that one of her fondest memories of Calypso is the time when she was suddenly “sat” on by the sea turtle while performing maintenance in Blacktip Reef, which left a giant streak of the white adhesive she was using across her wetsuit. Slightly annoyed at first, Beth soon realized that the mark was a tangible reminder of how incredible it was that she got to work with Calypso every day.
These innocent gestures encapsulate a sentiment expressed by Holly Bourbon, director of dive programs: Perhaps Calypso didn’t understand the magnitude of her size, especially compared to the people who cared for her.
Moving forward, Calypso’s absence will be felt throughout the Aquarium. Emily Kelly, senior aquarist, expressed that she’ll miss performing even the most mundane tasks while caring for Calypso, and that it won’t be the same “without her shadow swimming over me.”
Thank you to all who have shared their memories of Calypso with us; our staff truly appreciates all of the support that we have received and seeing your sympathetic messages has eased the burden of this monumental loss.