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Mermaids: Tails or Tales

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If you asked a group of individuals to describe what a mermaid looks like, most of their opinions would be the same. They would say that mermaids are sea creatures, which are half human-half fish and typically female. If you asked the same group of people whether or not they think mermaids are real, you would most likely get a mixed response. People like to believe that mermaids exist based on their human like similarities and plentiful “sightings. ”

The first scientific description of Merfolk were documented in 586 A. D. by Historian Pliny the Elder and legends of the creature have made their way through Europe, Africa, Asia, The Middle East and undoubtedly to North America. In 1493, Christopher Columbus reportedly saw three mermaids frolicking near the coastline of Haiti. He documents that the creatures “came high out of the water but were not as pretty as they are depicted. ” (Unknown Explorers) These historic sightings however, have been rumored to be the sailors’ hallucinations.

It is thought that the men actually saw manatees and mistook them for women, and it is even said that the men would sometimes engage in sexual intercourse with the sea mammals, just like Shepherds have been believed to do with their sheep for centuries. Regardless of whether or not these rumors are true, there is another possible explanation for mermaids that is critical to consider. In William Bonds’ Book “The Secret History of Mermaids,” he states that “the key to making sense of all these tales comes through the story of a Dutch seaman called Hamel.

He was on a Dutch ship, ‘Sperwer’ that was wrecked near the Korean island of Cheju in 1653. This is where he and the other survivors of the wreck spent ten months on the island. On returning to Holland, he wrote a book about his experiences and claimed that there were mermaids on the island. What’s interesting is that even today women from the island dive for shellfish and edible seaweed. Does this mean that what we refer to as mermaids are simply women divers? ” This brings us to an interesting point. For over 1500 years, women in Japan have been diving for pearls, starfish, octopus, shellfish and seaweed.

They do this in water as cold as 50°F, for over three minutes in areas as deep as 30 meters. (Bond) So could this validate some of the reports where women are seen lying on the rocks, plunging into the water, and vanishing into the waves? Maybe these are in reality humans aiming to survive and not mythical sea dwellers. Mermaids found their way into Fairy Tales in 1837 when Danish Author Hans Christian Andersen published his version of “The Little Mermaid. ” The story is about “a young mermaid who is willing to give up her life in the sea and her identity as a mermaid to gain a human soul and the love of a human Prince” (Wikipedia).

Hans Christian came up ultimately with two different endings to the story, and he wrote the tale around the time that he discovered his secret gay lover Edvard Collin was engaged to a woman. Mermaids have not only been seen in fairy tales but they have also taken the fantasy film and literature world by storm. They are presented in movies, fashion, and have recently become the focus of a major chain of amusement park attractions, where women and sometimes men dress up as Merfolk, diving deep underwater for long periods of time, entertaining audiences of large proportions.

One of the most famed mermaid attractions is Weeki Wachee Springs, located off the Gulf Coast in the tiny town of Spring Hill. This attraction opened on October 13, 1947 and still operates today. The site was chosen as the filming location for the film “Mr. Peabody and The Mermaid,” and has been visited by many famous celebrities including Elvis, Don Knotts, Esther Williams and Arthur Godfrey. (Weeki Wachee)

There have been numerous documentaries on television regarding not only the existence and history of mermaids, but also the tragic reality of a fatal birth defect known as “Mermaid Syndrome. The syndrome, also known as Sirenomelia, is a rare but fatal birth defect in which the lower limbs of a newborn have been fused together resembling the tail of a mermaid. There are only three known survivors, as the syndrome is almost always fatal in newborns, and is known to cause such complications as abnormal kidneys and internal or external genitalia.

It causes the large intestine to become misplaced and causes problems with the bladder, if the person even has one at all. Recently, a ten year old girl named Shiloh Pepin who had the syndrome was profiled on TLC’s documentary “The Mermaid Girl. Shiloh eventually died on October 23rd, 2008 from a lung infection, which was complicated due to the severity of her disability. Shiloh did not have a uterus, bladder, large intestine, vaginal vault or rectum.

Her body also had no way to dispose of urine, resulting in her having to use colostomy bags which needed to be changed at least five times a day. In May 2012, Animal Planet originally aired a “docu-fiction” special titled “Mermaids: The Body Found. ” This program “tells the story of a team of scientists who testify that they found the remains of a sea creature with ties to human origins – a modern day mermaid.

They claim a massive government cover-up is currently hiding the creature’s existence from the general public” (Amazon). The following year in May 2013, 3. 6 million viewers tuned into Animal Planet’s sequel “mock-u-mentary” “Mermaids: The New Evidence. ” This deception created such a public disturbance that The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) released a statement stating that “no evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found. ”

There is another mermaid hoax that is worth mentioning, and it involves the notorious P. T. Barnum. In 1842, Barnum purchased a creature resembling a mermaid that was allegedly captured near the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific. P. T. had the creature checked out and ultimately discovered that it wasn’t real. This didn’t prevent him from continuing to put the specimen on exhibit and claiming that it was the real deal. He even went so far as to market the mermaid as a beautiful topless woman, when in fact the creature resembled a sewn together monkey from the waist up, and a fish from the waist down.

People were disgusted by the sight of it. As a correspondent from the Charleston Courier put it: “Of one allusion… the sight of the wonder has forever robbed us. We shall never again discourse, even in poesy, of mermaid beauty, nor woo a mermaid even in our dreams – for the Feejee lady is the very incarnation of ugliness” (Boese). The mermaid is one of the most popular figures in world folklore. Her characteristic appearance is as a nubile young girl, with long hair and a fish tail, carrying a comb and a mirror.

Unlike the other part-human, part-animal creatures of myth and folklore. Mermaids have been the object of many sightings up to the present day. It is as if there is a desire to prove the reality of mermaids. (Answers. com) With an abundant amount of the sea floor uncharted, the mystery of the mythical mermaid may never be resolved. However, as man continues to document their presences, people will continue to consider the possibility that they do indeed exist.

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