More On Merbeings

Posted by: Loren Coleman on June 21st, 2009

Guest blogger Xtrox shares some more insights about the Mermaids and Mermen of the Sea.

More on Merbeings by Xtrox

One of the interesting parts about this research (see earlier posting here) was to realize, once I started to read the reports, that if you pay attention some “trends” seem to appear. The sightings can be roughly grouped in 5 broad categories (I’m not including beings like the Thetis Lake Monster). The first 3 concern human-like entities from the navel up, with some sort of tail and no posterior limbs, such as:

– Classic mermaids and mermen with scaled fish-tails (see John M’Isaac report, 1811, Benbecula Merchild report, 1833, others.).

– Merbeings with long fish-tails, exhibiting some serpentine or eel-like qualities —it is hinted that the ones able to stand upright on their tails probably belong to this category; they are eerily reminiscent of nagas—. Some accounts also mention seaweed or ribbon-like substances sprouting of their heads (see Reynolds report, 1782; de Bischopp report, 1957, Australian Yawkyawk legend??).

– Scaless mermen and mermaids often depicted with dolphin or porpoise-like tails (Henry Hudson report, 1608, mene mamma, Portgordon Report, 1814, Morotai mermaids).

These humanoid varieties come in assorted colors; most often they are described as white skinned with black, blond, brown, red or even green hair. However, they can also have tawny, brown, gray or green skin, and even bluish tails. Their faces can be perfectly human with beautiful or rather coarse traits, but they can also sport some not-quite-human features. For instance, the merman allegedly spotted in 1782 by Henry Reynolds had a nose that “ran up between the eyes” (this case is now being explained as a bearded or hooded seal sighting).

Most merbeings appear to have normal looking arms with five fingered hands. However, there are also many anomalies listed, such as arms too short or too long for their bodies, four or six fingered hands, webbed hands, and even long fingernails or talons (see Robert Froster report, Lake Matamba dark-skinned mermaids).

Needless to say, humanoid merbeings don’t speak, don’t carry combs or mirrors and don’t grant any wishes. However, they can produce cry-like sounds. In one case, even a “melody” was reported (Bocca di Magra, 1962). They also seem to prefer to come ashore at night.

Reading the reports, over and over you stumble with people claiming that merbeings look quite aggressive. Things like “unsettling” gaze (Faroe Islands report, 1723), “both frightened and angry” (Alexander Gunn report, 1900), “wild and fierce” (Reynolds report, 1782) are very frequently mentioned. This seems to be a defensive stance, though. The typical encounter with a merbeing occurs when the human accidently surprises him or her, not the other way around. If the human is an adult, the merbeing often will react staring at him angrily —looking quite intimidating— and then making a hasty retreat. However, if the human is a child, the creature might assume a more relaxed stance.

This has not always been the case. There are many old accounts of mermaids and mermen displaying curiosity regarding humans. Unfortunately, those attempts were always met with aggression from our part. When a mermaid surfaced near Bayonne in 1610, men grabbed long poles to repulse her, and she uttered a cry before diving back under the water. That same year another mermaid approached some men standing at the harbour-side of St. John’s in Newfoundland. The creature was described by a Captain Withbourne as “a beautiful woman, looking cheerful and well proportioned, with hair down to the neck” that from “the middle down” was shaped like a “broad, hooked arrow”. However, when the mermaid tried to reach a small boat, a man struck her with an oar, making her fall back. Some years later, in 1674, a merman tried to do the same thing in New England, but when he placed his hands on the side of the small boat, was so hardly struck that one of his hands was severed. That same century, in 1688, two Scottish fishermen supposedly drew up with a hook a mermaid that had the face, arms, breasts and shoulders of a woman, and long hair hanging down the neck. Their reaction? One of the fishermen stabbed her with a knife, and she was seen no more.

The tendency continued well into the 19th century. A man with a rifle almost shot a merbeing spotted in the West coast of Scotland in 1814, but the others witnesses managed to dissuade him. Neither the small mermaid reported from Benbecula in 1830, nor the white-skinned one seen off the coast Orkney, at Deerness, were so lucky. The former was killed by a teenager boy who threw a stone at her; the later was shot.

The last 2 categories of merbeings:

– Assorted merbeings with fish-tails and four limbs (Exeter merman, 1737; Runan Shah?).

– Assorted animalistic creatures with arms and fish-like tails, but with monkey, fish or seal-like faces (Yell mermaid, Exmouth Mermaid). These ones are too many to describe.

Here’s the Exmouth account.

In 1812, Mr. Toupin, of Exmouth, published the following account of his having seen a Mermaid: “The day (August 11),” says he, ” being very fine, I joined a party of ladies and gentlemen in a sailing excursion. When we had got about a mile to the southeast of Exmouth-bar, our attention was suddenly arrested by a very singular noise, by no means unpleasant to the ear, but of which it is impossible to give a correct idea by mere description. It was not, however, unaptly compared by one of our ladies to the wild melodies of the AEolian harp, combined with a noise similar to that made by a stream of water falling gently on the leaves of a tree. In the mean time we observed something about one hundred yards from us, to windward. We all imagined it to be some human being, though at the same time we were at a loss to account for this, at such a distance from the shore, and no other boat near. We hailed, but received no reply, and we made toward this creature as soon as possible; when, to the great astonishment of us all, it eluded our pursuit by plunging under water. In a few minutes it rose again, nearly in the same place; and by that time we had got sufficiently near for one of the boatmen to throw into the water a piece of boiled fish, which he had in his locker. This seemed to alarm the animal, though it soon recovered from its fears, for we presently observed it to lay hold of the fish, which it ate with apparent relish. Several other pieces were thrown out, by which the creature was induced to keep at a short distance from our boat, and afforded us the opportunity of observing it with attention, and found, to our astonishment, that it was no other than a Mermaid. As the sea was calm, and in a great degree transparent, every part of the animal’s body became in turn visible. The head, from the crown to the chin, forms rather a long- oval, and the face seems to resemble that of the seal, though, at the same time, it is far more agreeable, possessing a peculiar softness, which renders the whole set of features very interesting. The upper and back part of the head appeared to be furnished with something like hair, and the forepart of the body with something like down, between a very light fawn and a very pale pink colour, which, at a distance, had the appearance of flesh, and may have given rise to the idea that the body of the Mermaid is, externally, like that of the human being. This creature has two arms, each of which terminates into a hand with four fingers, connected to each other by means of a very thin elastic membrane. The animal used its arms with great agility, and its motions in general were very graceful. From the waist it gradually tapered so as to form a tail, which had the appearance of being covered with strong broad polished scales, which occasionally reflected the rays of the sun in a very beautiful manner; and, from the back and upper part of the neck, down to the loins, the body also appeared covered with short round broad feathers, of the colour of the down on the fore-part of the body. The whole length of the animal, from the crown of the head to the extremity of the tail, was supposed to be about five feet, or five feet and a half. In about ten minutes, from the time we approached, the animal gave two or three plunges, in quick succession, as if it were at play. After this, it gave a sudden spring, and swam away from us very rapidly, and in a few seconds we lost sight of it.”

What all of this means?

Let’s face it, not only there’s not a shred of evidence regarding the existence of humanoid merbeings, but as mystery_man pointed out, they are impossible creatures. The mystery, then, is not whether they exist or not, but why we keep getting these reports.

I think the answer might be a very complex one, involving not only the misidentification of known animals, but also psychological issues and —who knows— maybe even a cryptid or two. Unfortunately, it is not likely that those cryptids will look like Daryl Hannah :(.

++++(In lieu of a footnote, here’s a flipper note)

I couldn’t include among my reports a sighting that supposedly took place in Bocca di Magra (Italy) in 1962 and appeared in the Italian Magazine La Domenica dell Corriere (in Italian, here and here).

Supposedly, a fisherman called Colmaro Orsini was fishing when he heard a melody coming from the sea. He claimed that he briefly saw the head of a woman with green hair raise from the waters. He also spotted a fish tail.

The art used in conjunction with that particular number (shown at the top) became a popular print that can be purchased online.

If you like mermaid art, you can also check David Delamare’s paintings (two examples of which are shown directly above).

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.

25 Responses to “More On Merbeings”

  1. cryptidsrus responds:

    Great report, Xtrox!!!

    To be honest, the idea that these beings may be “impossible” does not surprise me. I guess they’re considered “impossible” because they do not conform to current “knowledge” of evolution.

    They are “impossible”—if one accepts the standard taxonomical and evolutionary way of looking at things. If there was shown definitively to be a (let’s say) different origin to mankind and life on earth than what is currently accepted, then maybe the “impossible” label would fall away.

    Like I’ve said before, the idea that SOME people have that we know everything there is to know scientifcally in this world is ridiculous. It may be that what is considered “supernatural” or “unscientifc” today maybe considered part of the fabric of ordinary reality in the near future. Goes for Mermaids and it goes for ESP, Telepathy, and other sundry topics as well.

    The fact that mermaids do not talk may not be totally true. There are many tales (most of them from the folk tradition) that speak of mermaids/selkies/nixies intermarrying with humans and bearing children where they definitely DO talk.
    From what I’ve read the tradition that mermaids do not talk comes partly from Hans Christian Andersen, who sort of turned the Mermaid from a proud, exuberant, even ferocious species
    into a meek, Christianized mute creature who “earns” a soul for her selfless behavior. It may be that the majority of tales about mermaids speak of their muteness but not the ones I’ve read of.
    Still, thanks for the report, Xtrox. This “believer” thanks you.

  2. norman-uk responds:

    Well I was getting really interested in merbeings now they are impossible!
    I think i’ll keep an open mind though as imo there is a reality behind the stories maybe an incredible one but certainly interesting!

    In that case I won’t have to give up on the duck billed platypus either or that ridiculous mole rat and have you seen the octopus that can mimic any shape it fancies?

  3. Fhqwhgads responds:

    In one post, you have Roger Knights saying, “By “scoftic” [I mean] someone who…gives witness testimony no weight whatsoever, on ideological grounds, and who asserts numerous other bits of unreasonable dogma, such as that the quantity of reports is insignificant.”

    In this post, you list a number of different witness accounts, then say, “Let’s face it, not only there’s not a shred of evidence regarding the existence of humanoid merbeings….”

    Let’s be clear what you mean in the current post: there is little or no tangible evidence, and the witness accounts are not enough (not even close!) to force a revision of what we understand of the tree of life.

    Near the opposite extreme would be cases like the ivory-billed woodpecker. It’s known to have been around only a few decades ago, and only presumed to be extinct. Since it’s plausible to begin with, the testimony of witnesses can be much more persuasive.

    Even if it makes me “scoftic”, I have to put bigfoot somewhere in between. Animals roughly similar to it (like Paranthropus robustus) are known to have existed at one time, but (1) were much smaller, (2) appear to have gone extinct millions of years ago, and (3) are not known to have lived anywhere near the Americas. In this case I’d have to consider witness testimony intriguing, but not compelling. Sorry, guys. But this is not an “impossible animal”, so maybe one day really compelling evidence will be collected.

    Meanwhile, you just might run into merbeings in the most unlikely places.

  4. Loren Coleman responds:

    Fhqwhgads appears to be imprecise in comparing statements from Knights and from a different person, guest blogger Xtrox, please note, as if the “you” is the same individual.

  5. mystery_man responds:

    An open mind is good, but let’s not let our brains fall out here.

    My previous comments on this, which are referred to here, made it very clear what I meant when I said “impossible.” I was referring to the classical depictions of mermaids. In fact, I don’t believe I even used the exact words “impossible,” but rather something along the lines of “not very plausible.”

    And implausible they are. If one means mermaids in the sense of an upper body virtually indistinguishable from a terrestrial modern human yet with a tail fully developed for aquatic life along the lines of a dolphin, then yes that is quite unlikely.

    Cryptidsrus mentioned the evolutionary way of looking at things, and I even stated that this was the angle from which I was approaching this. By all current biological and evolutionary models, the “classic” mermaid is highly unlikely. In fact, if you could find one with this completely human appearance, that would actually be pretty good evidence against current evolutionary models.

    If we are talking about magical or paranormal methods by which these merbeings came about, then this discussion has ceased to be one of modern biology and zoology as we currently know it and become something else, in which case we might as well speculate on whether they are related to the tooth fairy or not for all we know. There could be some sort of supernatural cause behind it, I won’t deny it, but we have absolutely no way of knowing that or even really suspecting that that may be the case at this point in time.

    I was sticking to what is currently sound biological sense. Someone had asked me my opinion in that capacity and I gave it. Yes, there are things we have no way of knowing yet and many discoveries yet to make, but there are certain trends in evolution and the animals around us that cannot just be ignored and mermaids as I have described do not fit in very well.

    We have nothing that is even vaguely similar to a mermaid in the classical sense in the whole known history of this earth. We have many aquatic adapted animals that follow the same trends, yet no precedent for a half human looking mermaid and I see perfectly sound biological reasons why. Now am I being irrational and close minded when I say that mermaids are improbable? I don’t believe I am.

    Let’s be clear that I do think something simian could have perhaps adapted to a semi-aquatic life or even a full aquatic one. I won’t say that is impossible. Coastal areas have a high concentration of resources that some early ape-like creature could have adapted to take advantage of. But I highly doubt these creatures would look like a human body atop a fish’s tail.

  6. Fhqwhgads responds:

    Sorry, Loren. I did attribute the 1st quote to Knights, but I did not catch that the entirety of this post was from Xtrox.

    Regardless, the statements from Knights can be applied to Xtrox with the same precision, or lack thereof, with which they are applied to other people: if someone is “scoftic” if he “gives witness testimony no weight”, and Xtrox considers the witness testimony to merpeople “not a shred of evidence”, then Xtrox meets Knights’ definition of scoftic. If at the same time Xtrox is not being unreasonable, “scoftic” loses some of its punch as an insult-word.

  7. mystery_man responds:

    A few more thoughts on what some have said here.

    cryptidsrus- You know I agree with you that we don’t know everything about how this universe works. Things like ESP and telepathy could exist, we don’t know how they work or how they fit in, they are complete unknowns. However, I don’t see the existence of mermaids in the classical sense as being the same thing.

    In this case we do have some knowledge of how we can expect aquatic creatures to develop, and we do know that we are adapted to quite different conditions than what a creature that developed in the water would be subjected to. We are not exactly working with a blank slate here in this respect, the animal kingdom is full of examples and precedents both aquatic and terrestrial. When compared to what we already know, it seems odd that a creature evolved to water over such a long time, with a fish tail, would end up with a human upper body complete with long flowing mane of drag inducing hair.

    Even very strange discoveries in biology most often make at least a bit of sense when you look at how those creatures have evolved and the interesting ways in which they have adjusted to the demands of their environment. Mermaids, an amalgam of perfectly developed aquatic features with perfectly terrestrial features that have turned out identical to humans, don’t.

    Other cryptids that we talk about here at Cryptomundo may or may not exist, but I don’t find many that completely defy the reality of biology as we know it. Most of them, whether they really exist or not, at least theoretically seem like perfectly plausible animals for their proposed habitats. They could be an unknown animal, misidentified mundane animal, or supposedly extinct one, but they all show signs of being potentially real creatures. The classical mermaid is one that I just don’t think seems very likely as a biological entity.

    This brings me right to my next point.

    norman-uk- You seem to imply that the platypus and mole rats are creatures that are completely strange and thus somehow comparable to mermaids, as if to say “If we can accept them, we should accept mermaids.” I do not agree.

    Forget for a moment that the ones you mentioned are actually real animals that we have documented and mermaids are not. These animals you mention, no matter how odd looking to us, have adaptations that actually make a lot of sense for their environments. For instance the mole rat is practically hairless for easing its body through the earth, and it has claws for digging as well, nothing too strange for a burrowing animal and features that can be seen in other creatures of this type. The same goes for the platypus. While it is a wierd mix of features, all of them help it survive in its niche. The body is sleek with fin-like limbs just like otters, for instance, and it has a bill useful for sifting for food, a feature that serves the same purpose for ducks. So while these creatures are odd, nothing about them is flying in the face of biology. Everything has come about as it must in order to allow the animal to best function in their habitat.

    I have no doubt that we will find even more creatures that have evolved in perhaps very unique and interesting ways to their habitat, but the thing is when we look at them through further study, we will be able to see why they developed in this way.

    Mermaids are not the same. Many oddities emerge when trying to look at just why they would look the way they are claimed to.

    For instance, why a slick dolphin tail, but a flowing mane of hair whish no other aquatic animals are known to have because it would create drag? Why a not very streamlined body that has simultaneously evolved with us over millions of years in a water environment while we have evolved on land, yet looks just like ours? Why perfect human nose and eyes, or a head situated upon its body in such a way as to be exactly suitable for an upright bipedal posture? Why human arms with hands that would serve little use for keeping equilibrium in the water under power of that fish-like tail? How is it that it has developed the fish like tail, yet no other obvious adaptation for aquatic life, instead developing the form of a terrestrial animal that would only be linked biologically by a completely different looking ancient ancestors?

    Unlike the mole rat and platypus, these are things that do not make a whole lot of sense from a biological perspective. Terrestrial animals and aquatic animals such as the dolphins which mermaids in part resemble develop in different ways for very good reasons. Mermaids in the classical sense defy this. It would be like a quadrupedal terrestrial animal that has developed a fish like face and tail, or a fish with four legs like a cow, or a creature living completely underground with long hair and big eyes good for seeing in the light. There’s just no good reason for it.

    Anyway, there’s no reason to stop being interested in the stories of mermaids. There is still a chance that something unknown is behind these sightings, perhaps even something with some features along the lines of what is reported. I do wonder what it could possibly be. I’m just saying perfect half human- half fish are likely not what we should expect to find.

  8. norman-uk responds:

    Sometimes you have to take the risk your brains will fall out if you want to live a little and get a bit wiser. Its worth it !

    I dont know if your quote was from Carl Sagen but I see he did some realy good ones. Here’s one I like viz, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” I only knew of a couple when he was alive which I took issue with. Some others he made, support your position quite nicely.

    I think your are right mermaids as described or not are improbable in most respects. Very unlikely and without as far as I know any physical evidence. But maybe unrecognised in some dusty old museum vaults somewhere ? I would agree with the idea mermaids improbable but possible and not forgetting life finds a way of exploiting every niche.

    All I wanted to point out that the improbable seemingly has happened before. You know the improbable duck billed platypus was thought to be impossible when it was first discovered, even though specimens were obtained, and called fakes. We are all much wiser in hindsight and now we can say it fits its environment etc. etc. and we dont doubt it. Same could be true for the mermaid and this and the reports make it a proper subject for cryptozoological interest which is not the same as conventional zoology.

    I am of the opinion that logic is a starting point when considering issues or even when looking for a lost pair of spectacles.

    “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

  9. mystery_man responds:


    Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known

    Oh of that I have no doubt!

    Please do not take my posts to mean I am somehow close minded to cryptids in general. If you’ve read what I write on this site, you’ll see that this couldn’t be further from the truth. I am carefully skeptical, but healthily so I’d say. Skepticism does not necessarily equal a closed mind.

    I do think there are many exciting wonders yet to be discovered in this world, I just doubt in this case that a perfectly formed modern human body on a fish tail is one of them for fairly sound reasons which I have tried to explain logically here even if I am a bit long winded. 🙂 Yes life exploits niches, but a human body doesn’t fit the aquatic niche implied by a dolphin-like tail. No matter how odd we would have turned out, humans simply would not have looked just like we do now if we had evolved in the water. That’s the thing. But something mermaid-like? Something maybe like an aquatic or semi-aquatic ape or simian ancestor in some respects? I wouldn’t discount that. In some ways that would even make a lot of sense.

    Another quote that I love from Sagan that you might enjoy goes something like “The most exciting words in science are not ‘Eureka’, but rather ‘that’s odd’.”

    Make no mistake that I am thrilled about the possibilities of discovery beyond established paradigms. And regardless of whether I think the idea of mermaids in the classical sense are biologically plausible or not, I still have enjoyed reading these accounts posted by Xtrox.

  10. red_pill_junkie responds:

    I truly enjoyed these accounts; my congratulations to Xtrox.

    “Impossible” beings? Quite possibly. The easiest explanation would be that it’s all the cause of some hallucination; specially if the person —say a sailor— spends a lot of time in the sea and is familiar with the lore of merbeings; but what about the accounts where the witnesses are regular tourists or individuals less inclined to be influenced by such cultural conditioning?

    And what if the hallucination is not created by a natural event?

    Maybe what we’re dealing here is some sort of Keelian “trickster” entity that somehow projects an image that causes the perception of a common Jungian archetype in the witness. In other words, what the witness sees or hears is a manipulation —it is interesting to note that in all of these accounts, almost none of them talk about the witness actually touching the merbeing.

    Of course, the existence of such “trickster” entities would seem as incoherent to some folks, as the idea of chimeric beings like a half woman/half fish creature 😉

  11. cryptidsrus responds:

    Don’t misunderstand me. I was not referencing you necessarily when I made the above comments. I’m aware of what your opinions regarding this and totally respect them. I was simply making a general statement about the term used by Xtrox that merebeings are “impossible.”

    All I was saying was that in the future what may be now considered “impossible” may be considered “normal” a hundred years from now. Knowledge is ever unfolding.
    And evolutionary theory has not explained away all inconsistencies nor “worked out the kinks,” if you know what I mean. All the aspects of it have not been satisfactorily explained. Would not be surprised if and “update” or “modification” of Darwin’s theory shows up in the future.

    I was also commenting on the “jump the gun” mentality that some folks have regarding chimeric beings or “supernatural” entities in general.
    Ok, it may turn out that merbeings are indeed “improbable.” I have no problem with that. But do not dismiss sighitngs/reports/evidence right off the top without at least considering/weighing/analyzing the evidence or at least giving a “fair shake.”

    And please, folks (Please)—
    Whatever these creatures are/are not, let’s not automatically jump to the conclusion that they are manattees/dugongs, ok???
    Call me naive, but I’m more willing to state that “experts” like sailors/seamen know the difference between a human-looking creature and a manattee/dugong!!!
    There might indeed be a fraction of sightings where dugongs and manattees are the explanation but the majority of them are not.
    A good portion of sightings are situated in places where these creatures don’t even live.
    Manattees/Dugongs in Scandinavia, anybody???
    Scotland??? England???

    And I don’t care how close to humans Manattees/Dugongs look (PROBABLY) from a distance.
    Manattees/Dugongs don’t have BREASTS. And the majority of humans (partucularly males) know the difference between a HUMAN BREAST and anything else. Give us some credit, skeptics. 🙂

  12. bccryptid responds:

    Was there not a recent sighting in the Persian Gulf? I recall a sighting of a mer-being swimming under a boat there.

    And considering the webbing on our own hands and feet, which apparently indicated we very nearly went back into the ocean and adopted a very marine existence for a time, I see no reason why a group of us could not have actually made the final big plunge back into the drink. How such a species could survive, hidden from us, is puzzling, but they certainly have more room to hide than the sasquatch, which has done just as good a job.

  13. mystery_man responds:

    cryptidsrus- Thanks for clearing things up. I agree with you that manatees and dugongs seem an unlikely candidate for mermaid sightings. Not only is it hard to imagine one of these animals being mistaken for something remotely human looking by a seasoned sailor (even a tipsy one I would say), but yeah, manatees in all of the places where mermaids have supposedly been sighted would pretty much make them cryptids themselves. There is certainly no resemblance between a manatee and Darryl Hannah. 🙂

  14. Fhqwhgads responds:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s never been very satisfied with the manatee/dugong idea. I could see how someone who has already heard stories of mermaids might see a manatee as “sort of like a mermaid”, but not how a manatee could inspire the idea of mermaids. On the other hand, something like the telephone game is surely a part of the process. Anyone who has read the description of the elephant in The Book of Beasts (T. H. White, Dover, 1984) will recognize how distorted descriptions of admittedly real animals could become through retelling.

    On the other hand, I wonder if there might be something powerful about the idea of the merperson that makes it a more likely hallucination than, say, a monster that is human from the waist down and tree above that. Along with giants, dwarfs, and intermediates between man and animal, I do think merpeople would be invented for folktales and mythology with or without real experiences, but are we more likely to have our hallucinations take the form of such archetypes?

  15. korollocke responds:

    I’m not sure how I would react to something like showing up near me. I was always told they were apex predators and would eat you. That looked like they did to get close to you so they could stirke. Stan Winston’s She Creature flick from a few years back is an good example of a beautiful but monsterous mermaid. Then theres the Mermaid in a Manhole movie….brrr!

  16. graybear responds:

    I love stories about mermaids and mermen, but I find them very difficult to believe in, especially the classical fish below type.
    Having said this, a case can be made for the development of just such a creature. Recently a little girl from South America has been in the news for her survival of over 150 surgeries to correct her congenital condition of sirenomelia, which fused her legs together and left her feet everted, turned outwards like a dolphin’s flukes. As a long time scuba diver, I know just how effective a double leg swimming stroke can be; it’s even called ‘the dolphin kick’. If there had been an individual born with sirenomelia at a time when early humans were still exploiting the richness of coastal environments (yes, I find the Aquatic Ape theory persuasive), then a population of mermaids and mermen might have developed from the offspring of just such an individual. Possibly they were only a very small percentage of the total population, but this is just how speciation occurs. These early humans might even have revered the evolving sirenian humans and sought them out for mating purposes.
    And as to the scales of a fish, those could have evolved as a type of pangolin-like armor. Almost all humans have scales, after all. We simply call them finger nails and toenails.
    I don’t really believe in all this, but a fairly reasonable case can be made for the merfolk evolving something like I described. Stranger things have happened; look closely at a feather.

  17. Fhqwhgads responds:


    I doubt that this birth defect actually makes its sufferers into better swimmers. Besides, it seems very unlikely that a human-like appearance would be retained in the upper portions, anyhow. The arms would almost certainly be greatly modified, the neck reduced and the head-to-shoulders transition rounded, etc.

  18. norman-uk responds:

    Yes greybear

    I thought the same thing, but wondered if merbeings might be wearing some kind of lower clothing as an aid to streamlining or as having a social function.

    Not very likely I know but it might all have happened in the days before ships and nets and guns and the cacophany of mans activities. Doesn’t it seem much more likely- of course under blue skys in clean seas and on perfect sandy beaches, above and below the water?

    A man can dream can’t he ?

  19. Loren Coleman responds:

    Norman-UK writes

    …wondered if merbeings might be wearing some kind of lower clothing as an aid to streamlining or as having a social function.

    This is exactly the theory that cryptozoologist Mark A. Hall has discussed in his writings on Merbeings.

  20. sschaper responds:

    It seems to me to be more a frustration dream or metaphor – at sea with no women for weeks or months, then a beautiful woman, except from the waist down, she’s a fish.

  21. cryptidsrus responds:

    I think Mark A. Hall maybe on to something. Yep.

    I’ll go with Ariel and her kin. Forget the skeptics.

  22. springheeledjack responds:

    Said it before, mermaids have always fascinated me. Still do. Can’t actually say I believe they are out there…until I run into one, but maybe we’ll see…

    And back to the dugong/manatee theory, even six months at see, full of grog and out in the sun too long…no way I’m going to say a manatee is anywhere close to any description or rendering of a mermaid:)

  23. cliff responds:

    M_M – Alot of good points, or at least alot of points that are in common with my opinions on the subject 🙂 but especially from a biological perspective.

    Xtrox – Thanks for the well written and well researched articles, I enjoyed them very much. While I may not be a proponent to merbeings, they are still very interesting to read about, especially the individual sightings and reports from the different locations.

    I think alot of the similarities in the individual descriptions have much to do with widespread folklore and the mythology of these “creatures”. Information travels, and stories get sensationalized and spread through different regions, especially in times when people didn’t have modern conveniences to entertain themselves with. The commonality of the physical appearances of the “creatures” may simply be a result of stories being passed along over time and people describing their “encounters” in a way that is familiar.

  24. stranger responds:

    I know this is pushing the limits, but here goes.

    Could we be witnessing the results of genetic engineering? I often wonder about manipulation when I see some ancient depictions (dragons, etc.).

    A genetically modified creature would not have to follow the logic of biology. It would merely have to be functional. The variety in the sightings could be accounted for by multiple or successive experiments.

    The ocean is a fabulously rich environment. Exploiting its resources by combining access (piscene qualities) with evaluation/manipulation (human qualities) seems reasonable. Modern man, without restriction, would certainly be willing to engage in curious genetic alteration (glow in the dark mice, anyone?).

  25. cryptidsrus responds:


    I was thinking the exact same thing!!!
    In fact, a lot of people (particularly New Age, but that’s neither here not there) think the same thing. Usually it is tied up with theories of “alien progenitors” millenia ago kickstarting the human rrace and other lieforms on Earth. Then they go on to Atlantis and Lemuria and legendary continents and so on and so forth. It gets weirder and weirder.

    Those theories really are not really for this website–but I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone in thinking about “genetic manipulation” in reagrds to mermaids. Others have thought about the same thing. Doesn’t mean it’s true, of course—but it is “out there,” so to speak.

    The issue is brought up in regards to Unicorns, as well. Actually, unicorns have been known to have been “created,” of course (witness what Oberon Zell-Ravenheart did with his “unicorns” twenty-odd years ago), so the idea of an as-yet-unknown-type of “manipulation” by the ancients regarding certain creatures is not beyond the pale, so to speak. Some creditable researchers like Paul Takon from the Australian Museum in Sydney, Australia and Christopher Chippendale from Cambridge University in England have found ancient cave pictures depicting interactions between humans and centaur-like beings, giving rise to the theory that maybe centaurs MAY have existed in the ancient world. Candidate of historical sciences Alexander Guryev says there may have been horse-human “contact” in the ancient world that gave rise to such beings as “centaurs.”

    I ultimately have no idea, but I tell you what—there is SO much we do not know about the ancients and the knowledge they had regarding many subjects. Lately it’s becoming clearer and clearer, at least, that they had a sophisticated knowledge of technology, botany, chenistry, astronomy, etc. Why not genetics?. 🙂

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