Manatees In Merbeings Documentary

Posted by: Loren Coleman on April 17th, 2008

Did a posting of an old “Mermaid” account at Cryptomundo in 2007, stimulate the involvement of a certain location in an upcoming documentary film?

According to the Ashley Park Press, this notice was referenced:

“In 1869, two Toms River fishermen reportedly caught a monster resembling a mermaid. A copy of the report is available [here]”

Reporter Matthew McGrath says in his article, “Mermaids or manatees? ~ Filmmaker: Sea goddesses may have been sea cows,” that Toms River, New Jersey was visited by a documentary filmmaker:

Ancient legends, Renaissance fairy tales and modern comic books all tell stories of mermaids, the beautiful half-human, half-fish goddesses of the sea.

Now, documentary filmmaker Nicole Cattell is planning to track the evolution of their legends across the world, with a stop possibly in Toms River.

The Jersey Shore locale is where two fishermen reportedly caught and released one of the mythical creatures about 150 years ago.

Cattell was scheduled to shoot part of her film in Toms River, mainly because Caryn Self-Sullivan, a manatee expert and the founder of Sirenian International, was giving guest lectures at Rutgers University and Georgian Court University [in February 2008] and will be at the Wetlands Institute, Stone Harbor.

She was speaking about her research regarding wildlife preserves as a means of protecting the endangered sea mammals.

“I wanted to speak with (Self-Sullivan) because manatees may have been confused for mermaids,” Cattell said during a phone interview.

It is possible that manatees were confused for mermaids because they share some human characteristics, Self-Sullivan said.

The sea cows have teats under their forelimbs, and they nurse their young under those limbs just as a human mother would hold her baby, Self-Sullivan said following her lecture at Georgian Court.

Manatees, which are very gentle and scare easily, are mainly found in warm tropic waters, but some of the sea cows are known to migrate to more northern parts of the Atlantic Ocean.

Cattell said she canceled the interview with Self-Sullivan today in Toms River because she did not want to shoot outside along the shore during the winter.

After completing more research about the shore sighting, Cattell plans to return to Toms River, she said.

Intriguingly, a month later, I was encountering manatees along the St. Johns River in Florida. I couldn’t see the resemblance to Merbeings, although I could understand how some folks might think they looked like River Monsters.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

2 Responses to “Manatees In Merbeings Documentary”

  1. Point Radix responds:

    Modern revisionists or “professional” myth debunkers, appear to be showing some element of bias in suggesting that the Merbeings are Manatees, insofar as the idea that the reports MUST refer to another mammal species. But I don’t see this as being necessarily the case. We need to acknowledge that in describing “unknown” creatures to others (who did not see the entity), the observer needs to reference the sighting to something known, and therefore comparisons to known fauna or objects are inevitable. Expressions of any concept are always constrained by “vocabulary” – some existing idea or phenomenon (no matter how imperfect) must always be used in trying to communicate the message of something new. Furthermore, with all due respect to our ancestors, we need to remember that in the past there would have been even less concepts to choose from in selecting vocabulary to put across the description of an unknown (at least insofar as observational – descriptive accounts of large fauna).

    A parallel may be drawn to the Yeti; the name in itself is meaningful only to a restricted geographical area. Therefore, the idea of the Abominable Snowman was used. The “Snowman” here obviously was not intended to describe its appearance – it can be assumed that it meant something like a “man” which lives in the ice and snow-covered areas of the Himalayas. However, the majority of persons internalizing the description would have no idea what an actual Yeti looked like, so their brain would automatically link to the known concept of a snowman – worse yet an idyllic winter scene of children playing outdoors decorating their snowmen with hats, carrot noses and coal buttons.

    While unintended, the use of a specific word in the description becomes entrenched. Like in the case of Merbeings then, our descendents would be highly confused in trying to figure out how a Yeti siting (if they still exist) could be related to a “Snowman” and would be very likely to reject the idea that it could be the same thing. Another example would be a description of an observation as something “moving across the sky in a manner similar to a saucer being skipped across the lake” which unfortunately became a “flying saucer” (forgive this ufology reference, but it is a very relevant example).

    So, to return to the classical merbeings – it is very possible that a proto-sailor (searching for a way to describe something he had seen while out at sea) tried to convey an idea along the lines of “something like a fish that was almost human in its behaviour”. So, the idea (and depiction) became a half-fish / half-human creature that probably looked nothing like what the restricted group of ancient seafarers had actually seen. The Manatee seems unlikely not only for its obvious differences to pop-culture mermaids, but also its total difference to a fish (I have never heard seals, sea lions, walruses etc being compared to fish). Therefore, if it really was a marine mammal, I suspect DOLPHINS – they are known to follow boats (and guide them back to being within sight of land), and in the early days would have probably been even more curious about the land-mammals (humans) and their crafts. While dolphins do not look human or even like classical mermaids – the sailor would have been at a loss to describe this “almost human fish-like being” and therefore by having to reference known ideas, the Merbeing became fixed in the minds of the people (the majority of whom would know them only from accounts of sailors).

  2. sschaper responds:

    Sailors would have been quite familiar with porpoises, though. Think all the way back to the Minoan mosaics. I don’t think that they are the merlings, either. Unless the sailors had been a sea, a very long time.

    I think that they are a result of myths of water sprites combined with overlong sea voyages.

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