Modern Merbeings?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on June 21st, 2009

The notion that mermaids and mermen exist in contemporary times is difficult to comprehend. Nevertheless, some accounts continue to make their way into the literature.

My most recent encounter with a “mermaid” was of the fictional, entertainer kind, during my interview for the taping of the 2009 Animal Planet documentary, Beasts of the Bible.

Some Merbeings, through various Mermaid images, are more familiar.

In this guest contribution, Cryptomundo correspondent Xtrox collects some modern sighting examples. Concerned by the response to a report previously discussed here, Xtrox had to “disagree with the assertion that this kind of phenomena is fading. I just surfed the net and there are many recent cases, including one in Peru that happened in 2007. Here are some of them. Enjoy!”

Location. Chirundu, Zimbabwe
Date: 1951
Time: evening
16-year old Cleo Rosin had gone to her mother to the Zambezi River in order to collect some drinking water. When they arrived at the river there was a canoe anchored along the bank, and Cleo climbed inside in an adventurous way. When she sat down, she noticed that there was a small round island in the middle of the river, which was especially wide at this point. And sitting on the island, near its edge, with her lower body partially in the water, was a particularly beautiful woman with long black hair. To Cleo’s surprise, the woman was naked and she was white. At this stage, Cleo’s mother was still filling the buckets with water. She called out to her mother: “Mommy, just look at that woman over there.” Her mother looked up and said, “Sh…Sh…you’d better keep quiet.” And then she added, “Look away.” But Cleo had already seen the bottom part of the woman’s body and it was like a fish and the woman was looking directly at them. But as her mother advised, Cleo looked away, and when she looked up again, the woman was gone. Her mother told her not to tell anyone about the encounter or else the “mermaid” would return and take her.

Source: Cynthia Hind, Fate November 2000

Location. Mar De La Plata Argentina
Date: 1953
Time: unknown
Witnesses reported seeing a half human, half fish creature that appeared in a cloud of mist over the waters during a siesta. No other information.

Source: Fabio Picasso, Strange Magazine # 20

Location: Pacific Ocean
Date: January 3, 1957
Time: night
Eric de Bisschop was re-enacting an ancient voyage from Tahiti to Chile in a replica of an old Polynesian raft. In his book, “Tahiti-Nui” he claims one of his sailors saw a mermaid jump onto the deck. It stood upright on its tail and had hair like fine seaweed. The sailor tried to touch it and got punched. The creature then jumped overboard.

Location: Karoo, South Africa
Date: Unknown
Time: unknown
There’s a local legend of a mermaid with blue eyes and pink cheeks seen at deep mountain pools all over the Karoo.
A man called Hermanus Fourie claimed that as a child, he’d been sent to collect wood for his parents in the nearby kloof and had caught sight of a woman sitting on a rock at the foot of a waterfall. He greeted her, but when she didn’t reply, he suddenly realised that she wasn’t an ordinary woman, and that instead of legs… she had a fish tail. She waved at him, and then slipped into the water and disappeared. When the young Hermanus returned home and breathlessly told his parents what he’d seen they explained to him that it must have been a mermaid.

Source: Travel Africa

Location. Mindanao Island, Philippines
Date: Summer 1978
Time: night
Filipino angler Jacinto Fetalvero reported that one moonlit night he had met a beautiful mermaid, with “amiable bluish eyes, reddish cheeks, and green scales on her tail.” She helped him secure a bountiful catch. A torrent of ridicule ensued, and Fetalvero thereafter refused to discuss the subject.

Source: Jerome Clark, Unexplained!

Location. Several miles of the coast of Florida, Atlantic Ocean
Date: 1988
Time: afternoon.
Professional scuba diver Robert Froster was diving alone looking for mysterious undersea formations, when he noticed a disturbance in the water. When he turned to look, he saw a vague, shadowy figure slashing toward him. All around him the water had begun to churn wildly, and clouds of sediment were swirling. As the creature rushed toward him, it appeared to undulate, rather than glide. When the fast moving form got to within 20 yards of him, he noticed something odd about it. Appendages like arms, seemed to be reaching out toward him, and the end of each arm appeared to be sharply talon hands. He then saw the creature in full view. He saw an unmistakable pair of breasts, long flowing hair, smooth skin, and scaled tail from the waist down. It appeared to be half woman, half fish. Froster said, “That creature had one thing on its mind–to kill me because I had seen it. I’ve never seen such evil hate in the eyes of any human or animal before.” Before the creature could reach him, Froster shot up toward the surface and was able to scamper over the side of his craft to safety. He never saw the creature again.
HC addition # 2861

Source: E Randall Floyd, Great Southern Mysteries.

Comment: Curiously enough, in 1881 a mermaid was allegedly caught in Aspinwell Bay and exhibited in New Orleans. Examined at close quarters, she was reported on in a Boston newspaper, and described as perfectly resembling a woman from the waist up, with silky blond hair a few inches in length. The arms ended in eagle-like talons instead of hands and the tail bellow the waist was identical to that of a mullet. Supposedly, the Aspinwell mermaid had scientists scratching their heads. She was in a perfect state of preservation, and one scientist who examined the corpse stated that “if this can’t be a mermaid because mermaids don’t exist, then we give up”.

Source: Marc Potts, The Mythology of the Mermaid and her kin, p. 168

Location. Anapa, Black Sea, Russia
Date: 1996
Time: daytime
B. Borovikov was hunting sharks in the area and on that particular day had descended to a depth of eight meters. He then saw giant beings rising up from below. He described them as milky white, but with humanoid faces, and something like fish tails. The being ahead of its companions noticed Borovikov, and stopped. It had giant bulging eyes. Two others joined him. The first one waved a membrane hand at the diver, and then all of them approached him and stopped a short distance away. Then they turned around and swam away. HC addition # 3511

Source: Paul Stonehill

Location. Charmwood, Zimbabwe
Date: January 2000
Time: late evening
Marko Batau was walking from Chawarura Shopping Center and as he approached the Hunyani River, he saw what appeared to be a white woman basking in the sun and sitting on a rock, half immersed in a pool of water. The woman was naked and Marko was surprised at this. Then he noticed that what he initially thought to be her leg, drawn up on the rock, was actually a scaled fish tail. The woman did not notice him at first, until he deliberately made a noise while walking on the gravel to get closer, and in an instant she disappeared into the water. A few days later, his curiosity aroused, Marko took the same route home. To his amazement, the woman was there, basking on the rock again. But not only that: this time there was laundry laid out on some stones to dry, with some draped over the bushes nearby. Unfortunately, in his astonishment and perhaps some fear, he did not see what type of washing it was, whether clothing or merely pieces of cloth. Again Marko drew nearer to get a closer view. Suddenly, the woman became aware of him and looked at him as though admonishing him. The next thing, she had disappeared in the water. The following week, Marko deliberately took this rather isolated shortcut home. Immediately when he reached the pool on the river, he saw the same creature there. Only this time, she was holding a baby in her arms and giving it a bath. Still puzzled by what he was seeing, Marko tried to draw closer to verify what he was seeing, but the moment the woman heard his footsteps on the gravel, she and the baby disappeared into the water together.

Source: Cynthia Hind, Fate November 2000

Location: Caspian Sea
Date: 2005
Residents of a few towns on the Caspian shores in Iran and Azerbaijan reported an “amphibious man” swimming amidst huge shoals of fish. In March 2005, an eyewitness account from the crew of the Baku, an Azeri trawler, was published by Iranian newspaper Zindagi: “That creature was swimming parallel course near the boat for a long time,” said Gafar Gasanof, a captain of the ship. “At the beginning we thought it was a big fish, but then we spotted hair on the head of the monster and his fins looked pretty strange… the front part of his body was equipped with arms!” said the captain. Back in Azerbaijan, nobody took his story seriously. It sounded ridiculous to those who thought that the guy must have been drinking while on board.
All the eyewitness accounts provide a similar description of the marine humanoid. His height is 165-168 cm, he has a strong build, a protruding ctenoid stomach, his feet are pinniped and he has four webbed fingers on either of his hands. His skin is of moonlight color. The hair on his head looks black and green. His arms and legs are shorter and heavier than those of a medium-built person. Apart from his fingernails, he has nails growing on the tip of his aquiline nose that look like a dolphin’s beak. No information as to his ears. His eyes are large and orbicular. The mouth of the creature is fairly large, his upper jaw is prognathic and his lower lip flows smoothly into the neck, his chin is missing.
Iranians dubbed the creature Runan-shah or “the master of the sea and rivers.”

Sources: Pravada, Rense.

Location: Quistococha Lake, Iquitos, Peru
Date: September 2007
Time: noon
More than 20 students of the “María Parado de Bellido” school claimed that a mermaid-like entity appeared to them in the middle of Quistococha Lake, and called them with her hands. The small kids, whose ages oscillated between 7 and 8 years, said that while they bathed, a fish-tailed woman surfaced in the center of the lake and acted as if she was bathing, collecting water with her hands and throwing it into her head. When the “mermaid” realized she’d been spotted, she made a gesture inviting them to join her. However, the students were terrified with the unusual apparition and left the place, while the entity dived beneath the surface. The children said the young woman was very pretty. She had golden hair in the shape of waves and very white skin, but lacked legs. Instead, they managed to see a very thin fish-like tail. According to them, the lady seemed very nice and did not represent any danger. Local people said that a mermaid sighting at noon was very unusual, since she generally does surface at night, especially when the moon reflects its light in the middle of the lake. According to the neighbours, in those occasions she’s often heard crying, and the sound is sad, melancholic —even devastating— and increasingly intense. The creature has never harmed anybody, though, and actually is well respected as the guardian of the place.

Source: Pro&Contra Journal


Are these last two illustrations merely other, less attractive views of “Merbeings,” as drawn by Harry Trumbore, from one of my and Patrick Huyghe’s field guides? Above is from a famed sighting in the Bering Sea, and below is based on encounters from the Pacific Northwest, in the midst of Merman-Pugwis lore, for The Field Guide of Bigfoot and Other Mystery Primates.

Thetis Lake Monster

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.

34 Responses to “Modern Merbeings?”

  1. mystery_man responds:

    I had heard of the Caspian sea accounts, but this is my first time to hear of the others. A very interesting and bizarre collection of cases. Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Xtrox.

  2. shumway10973 responds:

    I can easily understand any accounts either in the ocean or somewhere close by in a river that runs into the ocean simply because there would be no “boundaries”. It is another to hear accounts in lakes totally separate from the ocean. Not saying it isn’t possible, but hard to wrap the ol’ brain around. I’ve always loved hearing similarities in separate accounts throughout the years, even though any differences are pretty big. The one from Iran is the only one that specifically talks of major differences between “them” and us. Actually, that one I find really interesting simply because on of the Chaldean (ancient Babylonian or ancient Iraq & Iran) gods was suppose to be a half fish half man creature that talked and walked with men during the day and slept in the water at night. There are also ancient African legendary accounts of “fish”, alien people that created one of their lakes and during a particularly nasty famine some gave themselves as food for the humans to eat. I never could understand the manatee/dugong being mermaids thing. I understand being lonely, but them ain’t the prettiest creatures in nature–cute maybe, but not cute.

  3. coelacanth1938 responds:

    Hmmm… No mention of the Dakwa?

  4. Kronprinz_adam responds:

    Some sightings (naked mermaids, bizarre behavior, angry when they see humans) look somewhat..paranormal to me.

  5. korollocke responds:

    I can fathom this much easier than many things disscussed here, it make evolutionary sense really when you look at it. Though I was always under the impression they were fearsome predators and would attack and eat you and there appearance was merely distraction until it was too late. You ought to check out the flick mermaid in a man hole, brrrrr….

  6. korollocke responds:

    The being in Iraq sounds like Dagon.

  7. forsakenfuture responds:

    I agree with Kronprinz_adam that this seems more paranormal then a biological creature.

    However,i find it interesting that they always want to harm humans.

  8. odingirl responds:

    Interesting observation, Kronprinz, I was thinking the same thing. In Germanic/Scandinavian folklore, these beings are definitely elementals and fairly common, and frequently depicted as beautiful in appearance but with suspect motives, often involving ‘luring’ humans into their realm with their beauty and/or apparent friendliness. The lured humans are typically drowned or somehow kept prisoner in the mermaid’s underwater lair. Ironically, they are often depicted as very hospitable hosts, providing great food and drink….but like Hotel California, you can never leave.

  9. Alligator responds:

    In Scottish tradition there are selkies or seal folk. These beings could clamber ashore and shed their skin to take a human form. When they reentered the water they took on seal form again. Some of the old tales talk of sailors or fishermen who unknowingly married selkies and when they discovered the double life of their mate, they returned to the sea forever.

    Aye, merfolk are more about the paranormal than biological, but it is an interesting cultural mythos that goes back for centuries in many cultures.

  10. flame821 responds:

    I’ve often heard of two distinct (personalities) type of mermaids. One tends to be helpful and talkative the other likes to eat people or drag them under.

    I figured the later was more of an “old Meg” sort of hag story, the sort that is supposed to keep children away from the water and accidental drownings. But after reading a few of these accounts, perhaps not.

    I am somewhat surprised that the African accounts specifically state the pink/red and rather Caucasian look of their mermaids. I guess I supposed that local legends would more closely resemble the local people but the similarities between the classical European mermaid and the Zimbabwe mermaids is too striking to just brush off. The tie in of the Iranian sighting with a former god is interesting.

    I’m not willing to go as far as paranormal, as I personally feel as though (eventually) science and research will find an answer.

  11. cryptidsrus responds:

    I have no problem believing in mermaids.
    As the song says— “I’m a LOSER, baby, so why don’t you kill me”. 🙂

    And I agree that Merbeings should be considered more “Supernatural” than Biological. Actually, there is no such thing as “supernatural,” just natural “laws” and phenomena that has not been explained by science yet. Which opens up a wondrous and majestic panorama of possibilities for human potential and knowledge. I wouldn’t be surprise if science and spirit reunite after centuries apart one day. MY take, of course.

    The idea that science has explained everything in the universe(which some people actually hold, believe it or not) is so ridiculous as to be almost beyond comprehension.
    We are still in the infancy stage of human knowledge and development. We don’t know diddly, to be honest.
    Particularly in the oceans. There could be a myriad of creatures living in our oceans undetected by us that probably have been there for millenia.
    We really may not be that “great,” after all.

    The irony is that Mermaids and Mermen were considered “fact” for millenia by the most reputable scientists and authorities. all th way up until the late Renaissance. There was even a serious debate by the church and leading minds of the day as to whether they possessed souls or not.
    Actually, they’re considered a type of “faerie”—and like all fairie-type beings, fickle and unpredictable. You treat them kindly, they will treat you kindly. If the opposite happens, well…
    Call them fickle rather than malicious. Although they have been known to feast on human flesh occassionally. 🙁
    One of the resons they’re not seen more often may be that they, like a lot of faeries, may actually exist partially in a parallel world they weve in and out of. Transdimensional, so to speak. Aliens and other creatures are said to be like that also.

    I love that 2000 sighting in Zmbabwe!!! Marko Batau just couldn’t help himself, could he?? I wonder what would have happened if he had gotten near enough to the being to try to capture it. He’s lucky that didn’t happen, as well. Mermaids are a fierce lot when threatened.

  12. DWA responds:

    I’m really interested only in the second-to-last drawing up there (the “sea monkey”) because it was sighted by a noted naturalist who had a very, very, very long look.

    Don’t know what to say about the others (although flame821’s note about the African sightings is certainly interesting).

    It’s the same for merbeings as for any cryptid: gather the evidence; see how internally consistent it is; if the vast bulk of it is internally consistent, now you can start concentrating on dropping outliers and where a search has the best payoff potential.

  13. cliff responds:

    Shumway – I love this comment, and have thought the same myself.

    Shumway wrote:

    I never could understand the manatee/dugong being mermaids thing. I understand being lonely, but them ain’t the prettiest creatures in nature–cute maybe, but not cute.

    When people talk about sailors mistaking manatees or dugongs as being mermaids because they are drunk or lonely at sea, I have a hard time believing that as well. I’m sure experienced sailors see all kinds of things, and would be more likely to confuse the identity of one of those creatures for a seal or even a dolphin before they would relate seeing a manatee to a beautiful woman with rosy red cheeks and well-proportioned breasts.

    I’m not a big proponent of merbeing/mermaid existence, but writing the sightings off for manatees is reaching a bit too far, as they have no resemblence to humans.

  14. StinkFoot responds:

    i like the storys. Its good reading……maybe thats all it is.

    definitly have a paranormal filling to it.

  15. springheeledjack responds:

    Mermaids have always fascinated me…the stories and the accounts–it’s one of those far out…outer edge crypto things that I have never been able to wrap my mind around.

    I do not buy the manatee/dugong theory. First, sailors and other people who live around the ocean would have to be hard pressed to mistake one of those for a real person. If you’ve ever actually seen a manatee, if you look at it for more than a few seconds, you’re going to be able to tell the difference. I’ll give you that manatees have faces that at least suggest human features, but a mermaid with hair and other anatomy :), I don’t think so. Nope, do not buy it.

    Secondly, what people have reported seeing does not fit known sea critters. Not even the cutest of seals and fish-es-es-es.

    Do I think there’s mer-people in the oceans…doesn’t seem likely to me, but people are seeing something, and maybe it’s cryptozoological–I am excited that there have been actual recent reports too, so thanks for the catalogue of reports over the years!!!! Very interesting.

    As I said, I can’t wrap my head around the mermaid sightings, except to say, “huh, wonder what it is that people are really seeing?”

    Still worth keeping in the back of my brain for future reference.

  16. coelacanth1938 responds:

    A few years ago, didn’t some scientists find some Eskimo DNA among Scottish families that claimed Selkies as ancestors? And one thing I’ve noticed about Merbeings in general is that the smallers ones are always nice, but the bigger they get, the nastier they seem to be.

  17. badaveil responds:

    I was told by a learned man that at a time when transmutation was an accepted norm, there lived a small community that lived by the sea whom were so enthralled by the beauty and richness of the sea that we requested for divine intervention to make them creatures of the sea: mermen and mermaids. This whole community did trans-mutate, knew it was permanent and eventually spread throughout the oceans of the world. They are normal human beings like us not a different species just that they got their wish fulfilled and are happy being what they are…so I was told.

  18. mystery_man responds:

    Cryptidsrus- You are absolutely correct. Science does not know everything. If anything we are continually uncovering new questions rather than finding all of the answers. If we were any closer to the “truth,” we would be running out of discoveries, not constantly opening new doors of research. Science is a wondrous work in progress, building on itself, a series of tentative truths amended by evidence.

    The thing is, most good scientists are fully aware of this and don’t claim that we do know everything. They may be cautious about new ideas without evidence, but they do not think that we have explained everything. In my experience, I’ve found that it is mostly non-scientists who think that way about scientists and say that scientists think they have explained everything. This is just not typically the case. A good one is quite confident to say we don’t know everything (they just have a more careful way of going about amending our knowledge). I would find questionable the intentions and competence of any scientist that could honestly say “we know everything.” Scientists not the evil masterminds trying to limit our progress or close our minds. Far from it. Most of them are hard working folks just trying to find out how the world works.

    That’s what I love about science, and why it has become my chosen area and profession. Because I am fascinated by the process of discovery, of uncovering how the world works. We are far from knowing everything, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m just thrilled to just be along for the ride. 🙂

    As far mermaids, I have to say that I tend to agree with the paranormal rather than biological perspective. There could be something flesh and blood behind the reports, but honestly it is hard to say what that could possibly be. Many things about the traditional half human/ half fish just do not make sense for a biological life-form. Like DWA, I find the “water ape” accounts more compelling in this sense.

    These accounts are valuable nevertheless from a historical, folkloric, and sociological perspective. I have quite enjoyed reading this piece and the comments here.

  19. mystery_man responds:

    cryptidsrus- I also wanted to say I like your take on the term “supernatural.” That is pretty spot on in my opinion. If any of these paranormal things are real, then they are part of our universe, subject to the same laws as everything else and that would make them just “natural.” We may not be able to understand in what way they might fit into our universe with our current knowledge, but if proven they would certainly pass into the realm of known “natural” phenomena. So in a sense, there is no “supernatural,” but rather just the unknown and unexplained, and laws we are not aware of yet.

    I rather liked that observation by you.

  20. DWA responds:

    Whatever can be said of the provenance of any of the reports here: I find the simplistic tossing off of mermaids to manatees and dugongs a shining historical example of how straitjacket-irrational (or stone-headed thought-free, take your pick) mainstream culture can get when it is dealing with the unknown.

    I thought it was stupid when I was a little kid. I find it even more stupid now.

  21. sschaper responds:

    These do not all seem to be the same thing. Some might be European women sunbathing – possibly with diver’s pants? The Black and Caspian Sea creatures sound like an uncatalogued cetacean, or possibly sirenacean or pinniped. Considering the river dolphins in the world and the Lake Baikal dolphins, not so impossible. Others do sound paranormal.

  22. springheeledjack responds:

    DWA–go baby!

    Mystery_Man and Cryptidsrus–the big problem is that the debunkers and the scoftics like to hide behind the guise of science and make bold claims about what can and cannot exist in our world.

    That is a distinction we as skeptics/cryptozoologists have to keep in mind…because there are plenty of arm chair scoftics out there trying to use science to back their claims, when actually using science to test theories and ideas is actually a lot more open minded.

    I’m with MM too–any scientist worth his salt will never come across with an absolute…now they might go so far as to say, ‘at the present time we have nothing to prove that X exists’ but that is fine as far as I’m concerned. That is not saying X doesn’t exist or cannot, just that for the present there is no physical evidence to back up the claims.

    It has taken me a long time to not to cast a cynical eye upon science…until I realized that it was the debunkers and scoftics who were close minded, using science as their buzzword just to support their claims, and not science as a whole, which is a whole other ball game.

  23. DWA responds:

    m_m: you say: “Many things about the traditional half human/ half fish just do not make sense for a biological life-form.”

    Although we are obviously (as usual 😀 ) in agreement about where the most likely avenue for followup examination lies here, I’d be curious to know what you mean by that. Although I have to admit that I totally subjectively lean away from mermaids being real as classically described, knowing how a biologist approaches this would be helpful. I might think that, well, if you can have seals manatees dolphins and dugongs, why not these?

    Although again I’m not holding my breath to see one. 😉

  24. Erik Knatterud responds:

    Odingirl must have smoked mushrooms, in Scandinavian folklore there are absolutely no such creatures that can parallell the creatures Coleman describes. The closest things are: a merman, a tiny thing that would fint snugly inside a woolen mitten, often giving advice of perfect fishing spots. The female was much larger and if seen was said to warn of imminent danger, fierce storms. Fishermen the cut the lines and headed for land as fast as they could. Inland in rivers and lakes the entities were of a totally different kind.

  25. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- I’m glad you asked.:) I’ll try to keep this as simple and brief as I am able.

    First of all, before I start, keep in mind that I am referring to the traditional image of mermaids as a human body or that of a maiden atop a fish like tail. I also am thinking of this from a biological and evolutionary perpective, so I won’t be mentioning magical or divine transformations from human to fish.

    How plausible the idea of mermaids are really depends on the viewpoint you are taking towards these creatures’ origins and physiology. Do you think they evolved from fish or some other aquatic creature? Do you suppose they are air breathers or water “breathers”(of course fish don’t really “breather water, but rather extract oxygen from it, but bear with me. 😉 )? Do you actually think they are creatures that are literally half mammal, and half fish? Since you mentioned dolphins, seals, and manatess, I’ll assume you are considering the most plausible scenario, which is that mermaids would likely have descended from terrestrial animals and then evolved towards an aquatic life. This is the more rational possibility and it is what I’d like to explore here.

    Yes, we have seals, dolphins, otters, and manatees. This is an indisputable fact. However, how many types of seals, dolphins, or manatees do you know of with long flowing manes of hair, long arms with manipulative digits and opposable thumbs, or even pendulous breasts for that matter?

    If you look at pelagic aquatic animals (that basically means animals that live in open water), you will see certain trends in the adaptations they exhibit. You will notice that they have a more or less streamlined shape, and that they have pectoral fins and often dorsal fins as well. Even animals with very different origins, such as sharks and dolphins, have these basic characteristics, and this is due to a concept known as convergent evolution. I am sure you are aware of what this is, but for those who do not, it basically means that certain unrelated animals will develop similar adaptations for dealing with the same types of environmental pressures. These animals have evolved to live in and swim through the water and certain adaptations are more conducive to this way of life. You can see certain trends that are similar in a wide range of aquatic animals of this nature.

    All of this isn’t for show. Things like pectoral and dorsal fins serve a very important purpose. They allow the animals to maintain equilibrium in the water and swim in a straight line. Fins are a good way to do this, and so you see fish, sharks, dolphins, and a wide range of pelagic animals with fins. Nature tends to stick with what works. The same goes for a streamlined form that allows the animal to minimize the effort needed to move through its liquid environment.

    Some features of traditional mermaids just don’t fit in with a creature which has already developed the adaptation of a full tail for travel through the water. This indicates that the creatures would have had quite a long time to evolve to this element. So for instance, with something like the hair I mentioned, why would this kind of creature have a full head of hair? A long, flowing mane of hair does not make much sense for this type of animal as this would create drag when swimming through the water and thus increase the amount of energy needed to do so. Even when humans want to swim fast, they wear swim caps in order to reduce this drag. The human body in general is not exactly well adapted to swimming and moving through the water.

    Let’s look at the human form here for a moment. We have evolved in a terrestrial environment and much of our physiology is testament to this fact. For instance, our head is situated upon our spinal column in such a way as to be best suited to our upright posture and bipedal nature. We were able to evolve tool using hands because we didn’t need them for swimming or maintaining our bearings underwater, and our bipedal nature allowed our hands to remain free to become the appendages they are today. These sorts of adaptations make sense for us, but not so much for an animal evolved over millions of years to living in an aquatic environment.

    We humans have undergone millions of years of adapting to a terrestrial lifestyle. If mermaids were real, they would have had to have branched off from us quite early for them to have evolved aquatic tails along the lines of dolphins, whales, and manatees. In that time, even our terrestrial ancestors have changed dramatically in form and appearance. Modern humans look quite different than many of our early ancestors from even a fairly recent time frame. So what I wouldn’t expect is for a creature that diverged so early, and spent such a long span of time adapting to a completely different environment with completely different demands, to end up with an upper body that looks exactly like that of a modern human being.

    That just does not seem very plausible to me.

    If mermaids have evolved separate from early human ancestors that looked different from us to begin with, and then spent that time in a totally different element, I would not expect they would look all that much like us. There will have been changes, adaptations in form and function that would be the result of evolving with quite different environmental pressures and needs than what we had to deal with. I suspect their appearance would be notably distinct in many ways from our own.

    So a creature with a tail like a fish or dolphin, yet a perfectly modern human body complete with full head of hair, breasts, and tool using hands just does not seem feasible in my opinion. Hands could have developed, I suppose, but the arms would likely be shorter to reduce drag, and I don’t think they would necessarily look just like human arms and hands.

    I do keep open the possibility of some sort of unknown creature that may have been mistaken for a maiden with a fish tail, or an animal that has a few characteristics along those lines. But no, I do not see the biological liklihood of a completely human looking creature with a fish-like tail.

  26. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- I also wanted to mention that some of the other water cryptids with an ape like appearance seem feasible, especially if one subscribes to the Aquatic Ape Theory. I think that a creature that is perhaps semi-aquatic and taking advantage of the abundant rescources of coatal areas could look very much like what we see in the illustration at the bottom of this post.

    What I have a problem with is the idea of a fully aquatic animal that has diverged from the evolutionary path humans took developing a tail like a dolphin, yet having an upper body virtually indistinguishable from a modern human in all other respects.

    That’s why I am more interested in the bottom two illustrations here when entertaining the thought that they are real biological creatures, rather than the more classical depictions of mermaids.

    Do these last two posts answer your question at all? I hope so, even though I’ve perhaps been a little long winded. 😉

  27. Roger Knights responds:

    “The World’s Wonders”

    Being now three or four more years than sixty,
    I have seen strange things in my time. I have seen a
    merman standing waist-deep in the ocean off my rock shore.

    Unmistakeably human and unmistakeably a sea-beast: he
    sumerged and never came up again,
    While we stood watching. I do not know what he was,
    and I have no theory: but this was the least of wonders.

    Robinson Jeffers, “The World’s Wonders” (1951),
    first verses in Selected Poems
    (NYC: Vintage Books, 1965), p. 75.

  28. DWA responds:

    m_m: you not only answered it, you answered it in the way I should have if I’d thought about it a bit more.

    (The oldest known whale ancestor looks more like a coyote than it does a whale.)

    Much appreciated, and makes total sense. Thanks!

  29. DWA responds:

    Roger Knights: thanks for the great quote. m_m’s and my suspicions aside: I am NOT throwin’ down against Robinson Jeffers.

  30. Mystificus responds:

    And then we have sirenomelia. Any thoughts?

  31. Kitsos responds:

    Nicely broken down Mystery-Man. With all the speculation going on it is easy to forget a lot of the facts we do know. One thing to keep in mind though, regarding marine physiology and water drag.
    Dolphins and Porpoises have developed a way to counteract an increased drag due to their (theoretically) less than optimal body geometry which still has not been properly explained (Gray’s Paradox for example is what started it all). Thus it may not be far fetched to say another creature may have evolved an equivalent physiology of sorts, allowing it to overcome it’s physiology. I am not saying it would be as fast as a dolphin mind you, only that it would move around in water with a greater ease.

  32. MattBille responds:

    Good discussion, MM. A mammal that had evolved into an aquatic lifestyle is simply not going to look like a terrestrial human because the environments and adaptations are different. Even if you assume a formerly terrestial primate somehow evolved to have a tail, the upper half would not look human. It would look somewhere between the ancestral primate and the known aquatic mammals. The long hair in particular would be pointless.

  33. DWA responds:

    I searched and found this link that may be relevant to the discussion (via Elaine Morgan).

  34. Geo responds:

    I came across this page in a search about merman sightings–I was hunting for information due to the following story, and I thought I’d add it to the discussion:

    My brothers and I grew up on an island in the Philippines (Cagayan de Sulu) and one day when he was about 12 (I was 10 or 11), my older brother came home one day from fishing with a buddy out in a canoe, saying he’d seen a “galap”, the local term for merperson. His description was rather close to the story of the creature described by the Iranians above. He’s never been one to tell whoppers, and all these years he’s stuck by his story. Day before yesterday, he spent the night, and my younger brother brought up the incident and asked him to tell us about it again. I’ll recount what he said, which, by the way, is the same as it was when he first told it. He and his buddy were sitting in the canoe back to back, fishing in not too deep water, but not super shallow either. He heard a splash, and turned to look… There coming up out of the water (I forget if it was only feet or maybe some yards away-but quite close) in an arc was a pale white creature with its arms in a forward position like a diver, whose head was bald of hair; its head was turned to look at them. What he saw in that brief moment were eyes that looked large, black, almost diamond shaped, and same of the mouth. He said nothing about the nose or ears. As to the lower half, I think he said it looked pretty human; though he couldn’t say for sure about the feet, he said if they WERE feet they were together. After reading these accounts above, I’d like to question him more closely sometime, though his details are understandably sketchy due to it being such a short glimpse. What I do know is that he was convinced it was not human. It wouldn’t have been a joke by anyone, because it did not resurface, and for another thing, our family were the only white people around. And we don’t have huge black eyes and mouths either. 🙂 His friend did not see it, but when he told his friend about it, rather than disbelief, the friend said, “let’s get out of here!” and he readily agreed and they paddled quickly away from there.
    I always believed my brother, and after this recent reminder, thought it would be fun to look and see if similar accounts were out there. Sure enough.
    Thanks for reading.

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