First-time competitor wins annual pumpkin-carving contest

Elizabeth (Liese) Carleton was recently announced as the winner of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s annual pumpkin-carving contest for her creative whale shark pumpkin.

The contest—now in its third year—recognized first, second, and third place winners, as well as a People’s Choice Award voted on by the Institute’s Facebook followers.

Liese Carleton's whale shark pumpkin won first place in the 2014 pumpkin-carving contest. Carleton—a new student in William & Mary’s School of Marine Science at VIMS—was selected by the VIMS Communications office as the overall winner, and also won the People’s Choice Award with 66 likes on Facebook. An album containing all of the entries was published on Halloween day so Facebook users could provide their input in the competition.

The VIMS "Pumpkano" contest—inspired by the yellowish-orange hues of the Florida pompano, a common visitor to Chesapeake Bay during autumn—encourages participants to transform their Halloween pumpkins into marine creatures. Participants submit pictures of their spooky carvings by posting them to the VIMS Facebook page at, or by tagging their “tweets” using the VIMS Twitter handle @VIMS_News or the hashtag #VIMSpumpkin. The competition is open not just to members of the VIMS community but to anyone, anywhere.

Carleton—a New York native—says she had a lot of ideas when she first heard about the carving contest, but wanted to try something new and fun. “I think I spent more time thinking of designs for different marine creatures than I did actually carving the pumpkin,” she laughs. “I’ll definitely participate in the contest again next year so I can try out some of my ideas that didn’t make the final cut.”

Carleton ultimately chose to carve the first whale-shark carving the contest has seen to date. “I thought the light coming through the holes would look cool,” she says. “While I didn’t quite get the disco-ball look I was going for, I hope I still did justice to such a majestic fish.”VIMS Ph.D. student Ike Irby's lighthouse pumpkin won second place.

In second place was VIMS Ph.D. student Ike Irby with his carving of a sunset behind a lighthouse. The third place winner was Kasey Cantwell of Silver Springs, MD and her seahorse in seagrass pumpkin.

Other entries included a puffed-up blowfish, a shark, and a king crab, among others.

Carleton’s winning entry earned a T-shirt from the VIMS Gift Shop.

David Malmquist, Director of Communications at VIMS, says the contest is “a light-hearted way to engage the public in the marvels of marine biodiversity.” Each year, the entries show how diverse marine life truly is, with past entries including anglerfish, sharks, copepods, and even a coccolithophore pumpkin.

Kasey Cantwell of Silver Spring, MD came in third place with her seahorse in seagrass pumpkin.The contest has garnered an array of impressive carvings since its inception in 2012, including VIMS marine scientist Jenny Dreyer’s winning anglerfish entry from the inaugural year, which is featured in the October issue of National Geographic Kids.

“Next year we expect even more amazing entries,” says Malmquist, “maybe some ghost crabs, goblin sharks, spook fish, or zombie worms.” He thanks Belmont Pumpkin Farm in Mathews, which generously provided 24 free pumpkins to the VIMS community for use in the contest. Indeed, the winning entry was a Belmont pumpkin.

Pictures of all of the entries are available on the VIMS Flickr page at