Unfortunately, mermaids like Ariel aren’t real.
But I still hold out hope for talking crabs with Jamaican accents.
Mermaids are real.
You heard me right.
Now, before you call me a kook, give me a second to explain myself.
Mermaids that look like hot chicks with fish tails don’t exist.
I can say this with confidence.
Yes. I know about the Animal Planet mockumentary that fooled so many earlier this year. The film made the claim that the US government had discovered a mermaid body, and it posited that mermaids were a type of hominid or humanoid that evolved to live in the sea and have a close relationship with dolphins. It rehashed the much ballyhooed “aquatic ape hypothesis,” which is generally not well accepted by any anthropologists, paleontologists, or other experts in human evolution.
It was so well made that people actually believed that the US government had discovered mermaids– and (of course) was involved in some sort of cover-up.
Apparently, enough people had annoyed NOAA officials about the mermaid body that the agency was forced to issue an official statement in which it was clearly asserted that “[n]o evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found.” NOAA initially denied that the statement had nothing to do with the mockumentary, which came out in late May.
But when Animal Planet re-aired the film this weekend, NOAA instantly put out the same official statement.
So yes, a major agency of the US government was being influenced by a fantasy film.
Or rather, there are enough people who believed this mockumentary to elicit a response from the federal government.
So mermaids of the Hans Christian Andersen and Disney type don’t exist.
And the Animal Planet “aquatic ape” derivatives don’t either.
But mermaids do exist.
There have been many accounts of mermaids throughout history. Almost all of the claims for their existence come from either West Africa, the Indian Ocean, or the South Pacific– as well as the Caribbean, the Amazon Basin, and the Atlantic Coast of North America from North Carolina to Brazil.
Perhaps the first credible account of a mermaid comes from 1717. Two Dutch colonial officials wrote about the natural history of what is now Indonesia, and in the text, they mention a creature called the “See-wyf.” The authors describe a capture of one of these creatures and how it survived in a vat of water for over four days:
See-wyf. A monster resembling a Siren, caught near the island of Borne, or Boeren, [Borneo]in the Department of Amboine [Ambon Island]. It was 59 inches long, and in proportion as an eel. It lived on land, in a vat full of water, during four days, seven hours. From time to time it uttered little cries like those of a mouse. It would not eat, though it was offered small fish, shells, crabs, lobsters, &c. After its death, some excrement was discovered in the vat, like the secretion of a cat. The copy from which I have taken the representation for this work is thus coloured: hair, the hue of kelp; body, olive tint; webbed olive between the fingers, which have each four joints; the fringe round the waist orange, with a blue border; the fins green, face slate-grey; a delicate row of pink hairs runs the length of the tail [Source].
Much of this description seems to be pointing an animal very different from our conventional concept of a mermaid.
It’s not a beautiful animal that even remotely resembles a beautiful woman.
The mention of the animal being similar to a “siren” is some indication of its identity.
Sirens were the beautiful women whose song beguiled ships to their doom in Greek mythology, but the term is also used to refer to dugongs.
The text of this book was written in Dutch but then was published in French, so it is very likely that the French translators were unaware that siren could refer to this sort of animal. And the publishers had a creature like a mermaid depicted in the book, which makes things more confusing.
Nowhere in the text is there any mention of the creature looking like a woman with a fish’s tail.
This animal sounds like a baby dugong.
Referring to dugongs and manatees as sirens is an old tradition.
Westerners first encountered dugongs when they began exploring the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.
One of the weird features of a female dugong is that her genitalia resembles that of woman, and if you’re a randy sailor who has been sailing for month and months away from female company, this feature is going to be the one that gets the most attention. Men don’t often think with their brains.
And why these animals got called sirens or mermaids.
Dugongs are the real mermaids.
The see-wyf in the vat was very likely a baby dugong. Baby dugongs do make whistling cries when they are away from their mothers.
As a baby of that age, it would have only wanted to drink its mother’s milk, and it wouldn’t want to eat seafood at any age.
So it was not a good situation at all.
We’ve known about the identity of mermaids for a very long time.
They are quite real.
In the Indian and Pacific Oceans, as well as the Red Sea, the mermaids are dugongs.
In West Africa and the Americas, the mermaids are manatees.
They may not be as fanciful as “The Little Mermaid,” but these animals are pretty interesting in their own right.
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