Chief Operating Officer
Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center
Year zoo career began:
Caryl Thompson is the Chief Operating Officer at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center where she is responsible for the day to day operations of the aquariums. She manages exhibits and experiences that guests can enjoy as well as the behind the scenes work that is required to welcome guests into the facility. Caryl oversees animal husbandry, facilities, life support and water quality, guest engagement, education, and marketing. Her job straddles the day to day activities with long range planning, leading her to focus on training, leadership development, funding and revenue streams, and capital improvement needs.
Caryl didn’t know what she wanted to be when she grew up, except that she wanted to work with people and leave the world a better place. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English Education, but after teaching at a high school level she realized that she didn’t want to pursue teaching as a career. She was fortunate enough to become a supervisor of a large pool with Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation, and pumps, filters, and water quality are her friends. While working as an aquatic supervisor, Caryl obtained her master’s degree in Human Resources and Organizational Development. Caryl began volunteering with the Virginia Aquarium as a docent on the dolphin and whale watching boat tours and with the stranding response program when her husband began working at the Virginia Aquarium as an aquarist. Caryl spent 20 years in the marketing unit of Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation, which has a strong emphasis on the environment, sustainability, and education. In 2015, Caryl became the Marketing Director for the Virginia Aquarium, which was a perfect fit for her education and volunteer backgrounds. In 2018, Caryl accepted her current position.
Caryl’s favorite part of her job is watching guests light up when they learn something new or are introduced to a new species. Caryl has been influenced by Sylvia Earle, Rachel Carson, Ocearch, and Diving with a Purpose. She advises aspiring professionals to dream big, work hard, and have confidence in yourself. Caryl’s other passion is Leonbergers, a large breed dog that excels at therapy work, water rescue, and being goofy. She has volunteered with the Leonberger Club of America as the editor of their quarterly magazine since 2007.