Mark A. Hall: Did Sea Cows Fuel Mermaid Mythology?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on December 28th, 2005

Today we have a guest blogger Mark A. Hall* who contributes his thought in “Did sea cows fuel mermaid mythology?”

Virginia Smith of the Daytona Beach, Florida News-Journal has raised this issue and consulted experts who take an affirmative view.

Perhaps for Christopher Columbus they did. People back to Lt. Fletcher Bassett in 1885 have suggested that what Columbus saw in 1493 “were probably manatee or dugongs.”

The log of Captain John Smith, however, told a more detailed story that doesn’t describe a sirenian. His reported log entry in 1614 in the West Indies gives details not given in the newspaper story.

Smith entered this description of what he first took to be a woman swimming gracefully. She had “large eyes, rather too round, a finely shaped nose (a little too short), well formed ears, rather too long, and her long green hair imparted to her an original character by no means unattractive.” Only below the waist did she resemble a fish and that turned him off. He was not describing a manatee.

If he had seen Esther Williams wearing scuba gear he might have also been turned off. The folklore of mermaids tells that the fishy parts of the mermaid can be removed just like scuba gear. It appears that, when mermaids remove their swimming costumes, they can be not so unattractive all over.


Click here to view an interesting cartoon on this issue.

*Mark A. Hall is a well-known cryptozoologist who is the author of several books including his 2005 book Lizardmen and Thunderbirds: America’s Living Legends of Giant Birds published in 2004.

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.

14 Responses to “Mark A. Hall: Did Sea Cows Fuel Mermaid Mythology?”

  1. 2400bc responds:

    How in the world can anyone mistake a sea cow/manatee for a beautiful woman? One or both of two things must be involved 1)A great deal of distance between the sea cow and the observer 2)A great deal of liquor.

    Captain Smith’s report appears to have been close enough to discern the difference in features from the top portion to the bottom of the creature, so was he known for drinking? Not as far as I know so just what DID he see?

    Mermaids may unfortunately be one of those cryptids which went extinct just a few centuries ago, while today their sightings live on.

  2. SheliakBob responds:

    A theory about sightings of “mermaids” or “mermen” that always interested me, but which has rarely seen any discussion (that I’m aware of) is the idea that the sightings may point toward a cryptid primate or hominid that has progressed toward being sea-adapted, such as seals etc.
    Humans have always shown an inclination to dwell along beaches (and other bodies of water), is it utterly unlikely that a hominid decided to take that inclination a step farther? To actually have adapted to an entirely aquatic lifestyle?
    I suppose, however, that time argues against such a theory. Seals took rather a lot longer than 2-5 (or a bit more) million years to adapt to the ocean.
    Even so, sounds more likely to me than mistaking a manatee for a “beautiful woman”!

  3. DrX responds:

    I’m amused that you seem to be reading John Smith literally. He was prone to telling tall tales. Did you believe his account of trying to catch fish with a frying pan, or of his fighting off 200 natives while using one as a shield? And let’s not open the can of worms marked “Pocahontas”. The wise reader brings her own salt to season Smith’s fish tales.

  4. 2400bc responds:

    I may be wrong but don’t sea captains only put important entries into their logs? Were these tall tales spoken of found in his logs along with the mermaid sighting, or were they in other, more casual writings? Can anyone clear this up for me? I think it would bear on the credibility of the report.

  5. DrX responds:

    John Smith’s veracity was the topic of questions, satire, and outright denunciations, even by his own contemporaries. Biographer Thomas Fuller wrote that “it soundeth much to the diminution of [Smith’s] deeds, that he alone is the herald to publish and proclaim them.” Historian Samuel Eliot Morison decided Smith was “a thoroughly cheerful and generally harmless liar.” Another historian, Albert Bushnell Hart, called Smith one of the “great American historical liars”. It’s generally agreed that Smith’s writings are full of self-aggrandisement, boasting, and falsehoods. I think you should research him and see for yourself.

  6. Batgirl responds:

    I strongly suggest that researchers STOP trying to fit the mermaid mold into something that is known, like a manatee. That is all science does these days…force something into the wrong place. Mermaids go back as far as sumeria. Almost every culture has a fish-like God. Hey, even JESUS was associated with fish. The Merovingian kings believed they descended from a fishman. The Dogons worshipped fish gods. Cybele, Poseidon and countless other Gods are considered aquatic. So maybe the whole mermaid myth is more of a legend of a time when aquatic beings walked the earth. It would explain a lot in regards to cultures proclaiming to have been reared by Gods from the sea.


  7. Benjamin Radford responds:

    I second the notion that we should take Smith’s account with a grain of salt. Having researched lake monsters and other creatures, I’m continually finding mystery-mongering writers (I’m not talking about Hall or anyone in particular) who will uncritically repeat any wild claim of strange sightings (especially ones before the 20th century) as if their veracity were clear and uncontested.

    Even newspaper accounts of “real” sighting were often hoaxes or fabrications— see John Green’s exposure of the Bigfoot “Jacko” incident for an example.

    The mermaid discussion reminded me of a song on the band Great Big Sea’s latest CD called The Mermaid. The band is from Newfoundland, and sing many traditional sea songs: this one tells of a lonely sailor who finds a mermaid, and says, “I love the girl with all me heart / But I only like the upper part / I do not like the tail!”

  8. Marlantis Buzz responds:

    If I may…my first thought is the description sounds like that of the Green Lady, known in the old folk lore to appear at times to warn of an upcoming hurricane(s). Right area.

  9. comicbookhero responds:

    I just have a few things to say about this whole business. Mermaids are real, they are as real as you and I. I know this for a fact, how do I know this you may ask? I was involved in a very, very bad boating accident 10 years ago, off the coast of the southern (Caribbean) side of Puerto Rico. We were attacked by the pirate ship Black Pearl, and I was rescued by a group of mermaids that nursed me back to health. hahahah got ya.

  10. Atsawin responds:

    comicbookhero, that was lame, man.

    But seriously, sea cows? Greek tradition (I am Greek-American), states that Alexander the Great’s half-sister by Olympia was a mermaid.

    I seriously doubt they meant a sea cow…

  11. WARENDPC responds:

    If you want to see what mermaids really
    look like, in their most alluring poses

  12. EdwardHowland responds:

    It just goes to show that to a sailor after weeks at sea, even a manatee looks good.

  13. Stephen Penton responds:

    well all people were amazed when they disovered that a giant squid was a real creature and nolonger a myth. and they live so far under the water that no submarin can go deep enough to come close (say the one from 20K leagues) so f humans evolved from a fish that went amphiban to retiale to mamle then maby our cusin fish stayed under water and evolved so they still had the fish parts but inteligence of a human and probly a body similare to ours even though i would say it would be more like the meres from Harry potter goblet of fire

  14. motherleeds responds:

    Captain’s log indeed! For an explanation of Smith’s alleged sighting see the article entitled Captain John Smith and the Green Haired Mermaid on pages 17 and 18 of the November/December 2012 issue of Phactum (

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