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Mermaid Sightings and Speculation

Susette has a Masters degree in Sustainable Development. She leads her local Green Council and writes for The Sustainable Business Review.

Learn about supposed mermaid sightings through time, and explore some theories about mermaids.

Learn about supposed mermaid sightings through time, and explore some theories about mermaids.

Disney's television series Animal Planet filmed a shoot about mermaids in 2012 and placed a fake one off the coast of Israel. To increase attention, they offered a $1,000,000 reward for anyone who could prove the mermaid was real. When people started getting close, she disappeared into the ocean, never to be seen again. Naturally, this little trick increased the show's viewers exponentially.

Although the U.S. government's National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) claims that the existence of aquatic humanoids has never been proven, which may be true, the show raised issues that made viewers wonder if mermaids could really exist after all. Relevant speculations included:

  • If mermaids do not exist, why are there so many detailed stories about them that have been passed down from ancient times?
  • Where did the many mermaid cave drawings come from, if mermaids have never existed?
  • How can we say for sure there are no mermaids, when scientists know hardly anything about what lives in the ocean? Only 5% of the ocean floor has been explored so far, according to the NOAA.
In some stories, mermaids are said to have mated with human males in order to bear children. This would keep the species vibrant.

In some stories, mermaids are said to have mated with human males in order to bear children. This would keep the species vibrant.

What Is a Mermaid?

Descriptions of mermaids are not uniform . . . which means that no one has got a good look at them lately. In the past, they've been described as having upper bodies like human females and lower bodies like a fish or dolphin—but they've also been described as having legs, not tails. Some mermaids are ugly, with stringy hair and sharp teeth for eating raw fish. Others have long, silky hair that hides their bodies as they lounge on rocky islands in the middle of the sea.

Some sing with the wind and lure sailors to their deaths. Some emerge onto isolated, rocky shores at night and hang with humans, then slip back into the ocean during the day. Some are depicted as playing with or riding dolphins, like the ocean's equivalent of horseback riding.

There are stories, also, of mer-men and mer-children, which means they have mer-families, which means they reproduce, which makes them a real species.

Not everything is a mermaid that dives into the water.

— Old Russian proverb

The "imaginary" giant squid, caught for real in a fishing net in 1954. Here it is being measured by scientists.

The "imaginary" giant squid, caught for real in a fishing net in 1954. Here it is being measured by scientists.

Real Mermaid Sightings

There have been many reported mermaid sightings throughout the years, although our scientific community doesn't take them seriously. During the times of the following statements, there were no digital cameras to photograph with and no Internet to spread the news before someone's government, scientific community, or church squelched it. There was only word of mouth and journals, in which explorers like Christopher Columbus reported. Few of the journals had drawings that showed what the mermaids looked like, so they were easy to debunk.

Scientists say there is no such thing as mermaids, but not too long ago they poo-pooed the idea of giant squids too. Then someone found one bigger than a car caught in a fishing net. Since then, other dead ones have been found. Now scientists can't wait to get to the deep sea to find one alive.

Blackbeard the Pirate, aka Edward Teach, operated primarily in the Caribbean. He was not violent, but succeeded by virtue of his fearsome appearance. This engraving was created in 1726.

Blackbeard the Pirate, aka Edward Teach, operated primarily in the Caribbean. He was not violent, but succeeded by virtue of his fearsome appearance. This engraving was created in 1726.

The closest scientists have found to mermaids (that they know of) are dugongs, manatees, and, of course, dolphins, with whom mermaids are said to have played. However, just in the last 20 years, two new species of whale have been discovered, so who's to say what else is out there?

Reported Mermaid Sightings

Here is a brief list of reported sightings during the last 300 years:

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  • Early 1700s: Blackbeard the Pirate wrote in his logbook several times that he had seen mer-folk, and he told his crew to avoid the area where they were.
  • 1810: A pair of mer-children were found near the Isle of Man. One was dead, the other injured and crying. A local fisher couple took her in until she could survive by herself.
  • 1870–1890: Seamen reported several sightings near Victoria and Vancouver BC.
  • 1943: A Japanese sergeant, Taro Horiba, got word of mermaids being caught in local fishing nets. When he was shown a dead one himself, he tried to get the interest of Japanese scientists, who didn't believe him.
  • 1967: Passengers on the British Columbia ferry claimed they saw a mermaid eating salmon at the entrance to Active Pass near Victoria, Canada.
  • 2002: Early in the year, workers on a reservoir in Zimbabwe stopped work for a month, saying they were being harassed by mermaids. The local minister claims that people were disappearing or being chased away. The incident made it to the news.

There have been deceptions, like the infamous "Fiji Mermaid" and Animal Planet's promotional mermaid off the coast of Israel, and some of the sightings above may eventually be proven to be the same.

The deep ocean holds many mysteries that researchers have only just begun to recognize. New technologies and tools have allowed scientists to explore areas of the deep ocean never before accessed, and they have found hundreds of new species and even new ecosystems. Yet, much of the world’s oceans remain unexplored.

NOAA website

Mermaid Science and Speculation

Although scientists as a class do not believe that mermaids exist, are they doing anything to prove or disprove it? If mermaids don't exist, why is belief in them so persistent? Here are four possible theories that could be better explored:

1. Mer-Folk Exist

Scientists require visual clues for "proof" of the existence of a thing, including body parts or bones, and haven't seen any that they recognize as such . . . yet.

  • What if mer-folk were intelligent and loving beings, as we like to see ourselves, with private burial grounds for their bones deep under the ocean?
  • What if they're worried about being taken over by human overpopulation and so have isolated themselves, or perhaps we've already pushed them out of their normal habitats?
  • What if they have pride and are avoiding us killing or capturing them for display, like we do other ocean life?
  • What if they're responding to the pollution we've been pouring into their ocean homes by staying as far away from us as possible, so they can control their living environments?
  • What if they're trying to avoid the same annihilation that's happening to whales and dolphins due to the Navy's submarine sonar "exercises"?
  • What if they hide from things and beings that threaten them, rather than attacking (unlike us)?

All of these are hugely valid reasons for mer-folk to disappear from human view. And there are still plenty of places for them to go.

There are stories, also, of mer-men and mer-children, which means they have mer-families, which means they reproduce, which makes them a real species

— Author

2. Mer-Folk Are Our Evolutionary Ancestors

There are archeological signs that humans may have once been aquatic creatures. Humans are basically hairless, as are sea creatures, and move easily in water. Human babies take to water like fish, even before they can walk. The subcutaneous fat of female humans and babies matches the fat of dolphins and whales, and their intelligence matches as well. Vestigial evidence of aquatic origins even shows up in the human body, on occasion.

The video below shows a young girl who was born with legs fused together (sirenomelia), looking almost like a fishtail. This happens in approximately one out of every 100,000 live births. She lived to be 10 years old, before dying of pneumonia. The emotional underpinnings of pneumonia, according to the work of author and healer Louise Hay, are feelings of desperation and being tired of life. This little girl found her greatest freedom in the family swimming pool, yet she was being groomed to live on land—an impossible feat for someone with her body.

What if our real ancestors were mer-folk, rather than apes as popular scientific theory would have it? Beneficial mutations could have created two lines of descendants that then became separate species over time: Land humans and water dolphins (with their subsequent breakouts).

Mer-folk seem part human, after all—intelligent and better adapted to the elements than we are. They knew all the plants and denizens of the deep and of the coastlines. They were healers and artistans, making beautiful decorations out of shells, seaweed, and jewels for their hair and, most likely, their homes in caves under the sea. These details are included in stories we hear from all over the world.

Dolphins, like humans and mermaids, are highly intelligent. They have been known for centuries to interact with both mer-folk and human folk. Some of the oldest cave drawings of mermaids and dolphins in the world are found in South Africa, in the mountains near Oudtshoorn. The paintings are over 30,000 years old.

One of the oldest civilizations known on earth, the San people (Bushmen) of Southern Africa, have a language that sounds much like dolphin clicks. And those tribes with the greatest number of clicks are the ones that live closest to the ocean. Could dolphins and humans have once had a common language, way back in history?

As humans evolved and reproduced, could the two humanoids have lived side by side for awhile—one in water, the other on land—interacting and helping each other when needed? (Mermaids used to reward humans who helped them by giving back some of the bounty found in shipwrecks, legend says.) Eventually, mer-folk could have died out, while human folk thrived, passing down stories through subsequent generations about the ways things used to be.

One genetic study concluded that clicks, which occur in the languages of the genetically divergent populations Hadza and !Kung, may be an ancient element of human language, dating back more than 35,000 years.

Source: Oxford Journal

One of many paintings found in the caves of Karao, South Africa, this depiction shows what appear to be mer-people interacting with humans.

One of many paintings found in the caves of Karao, South Africa, this depiction shows what appear to be mer-people interacting with humans.

3. Mermaids Are Really Humans

All over the world there have been coastal groups of people that had breath-holding divers gathering food from the ocean. Most of these divers were women. Most of them worked without clothes, since clothes hampered swimming and took a long time to dry in the open air. In frigid waters, like those around Scotland and Ireland, and in South America off the coast of Tierra del Fuego, increased subcutaneous fat in women's bodies protected them from the cold.

These female divers took baskets down to the ocean floor to gather food and could hold their breaths for up to five minutes at a time. It's said that their breath-holding abilities gave them powerful voices, like opera singers, which may be where the stories about Sirens came from.

In the old days, the majority of food for a coastal population was provided by these women, especially before agricultural times. Even now, after 2,000 years, there are women still carrying out these duties in areas around Korea and Japan (e.g. Haenyo food gatherers and Ama pearl divers). These days they wear clothes to protect themselves from gawking tourists.

Ama pearl divers operate off the coast of Japan. As with the Korean Haenyo divers, they started wearing clothes at the insistence of critical tourists.

Ama pearl divers operate off the coast of Japan. As with the Korean Haenyo divers, they started wearing clothes at the insistence of critical tourists.

4. Mermaids Are a Fun Fantasy

Scientific speculation about mermaids holds that they are a fantasy, alongside fairies and leprechauns. It says that sightings recorded by Christopher Columbus in the early 1600s were really sea cows or manatees.

Archeologists do acknowledge that stone tools dating 100,000 years ago have been found on Greek islands, which means that some sort of human must have been able to swim long distances in the ocean or they had boats that far back.

Meanwhile, the Weeki Watchi Springs State Park north of Tampa, Florida has an imaginative show with live mermaids (in costume) that visitors can watch. When children ask if the mermaids are real, the show's manager says yes. He equates it with saying that Santa Claus is real . . . only in this case we really don't know.

(Mermaids) . . . are legendary sea creatures chronicled in maritime cultures since time immemorial.

— NOAA post on website

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on August 13, 2020:

Wow, that's eerie. That would have been in the late 1940s, yes? Has he been back to check it out since?

Suzanne Sheffield from Mid-Atlantic on April 04, 2020:

My father was aboard the aircraft carrier Ranger in the North Atlantic during WWII and shared many stories about being lost at sea after being shot down - he was a rear-seat gunner - and also about the mermaids. Apparently the mermaids called out the names of the crew and compelled them of jump off the ship. My father was so afraid he tied himself to his bunk when he heard them calling his name!

Larry W Fish from Raleigh on May 03, 2018:

To think of the existence of mermaids as being real is stretching the imagination to the max. Thinking of and hearing about sightings does make good stories, but no I can't really imagine it as being real. I wrote a Hub, a work of fiction, about a merman.

Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on July 18, 2017:

It's possible. The problem is that they had disappeared by the time we had cameras and that's the only proof we trust these days. Fables we don't trust, even though many of them contain a germ of truth.

Taco on July 17, 2017:

Very interesting article.

Don't you think all of the diferent looking mermaids could be different species ?

Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on January 15, 2016:

Thanks everyone, both for reading and for commenting.

@Kristen - The Discovery channel series on mermaids was not so much a scam, as it was an urging to keep our minds open to what we don't yet know. The scam part was their marketing, where they faked a mermaid on a rock off the coast of Israel and offered a reward for anyone who could get a good picture. It worked, though. It drew tons of viewers for their shows.

@Jay - I've read Edgar Cayce too, and I've been fascinated by the implication of every planetary being actually being a tamped-down or physicalized version of some different aspect of Spirit. In meditation once I was "told" that humans are a collection of characteristics, which is why we're called the "master race." I imagine mermaids might have been that for the seas.

@BLouw - Men have great imaginations, don't they? (lol)

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on January 15, 2016:

I remember hearing about that Discovery Channel series and the reports of it being a scam I believe, 3 years ago, along with the controversy. I felt bad for that ten year old girl. This was an interesting lens about mermaids! Congrats on HOTD!

Jay C OBrien from Houston, TX USA on January 15, 2016:

Watergeek, "I have a Masters Degree in international business with a focus on natural resources, and an avocation of natural healing."

Edgar Cayce was an American psychic who is known as the, Father of Holistic Medicine in the U.S. He gave about 12,000 psychic health readings which were highly effective.

Edgar Cayce also gave reading on how the spirit condensed into physical bodies of the earth... including mermaids! See reading 364-10

I am not sure I accept all this, but I do believe in his psychic abilities. See my Hub, "My Telepathic Experiences."

Moon Daisy from London on January 15, 2016:

Oh, I wish they were real! But actually I they're probably a load of bunk. Lovely hub though, voted up!

I know somewhere that looks just like the place in the first picture, I used to go there as a child. I would've loved to see mermaids there.

Kitty Fields from Summerland on January 15, 2016:

Very thought-provoking and well-written hub. I too have written a hub on mermaid gained a lot of attention after animal planet released that mermaid documentary, Mermaids: The Body Found. There have been so many sightings and stories, we can't just dismiss it as pure fantasy.

Jasmeet Kaur from India on January 15, 2016:

I don't think so that mermaids exists...

Barbara Walton from France on January 15, 2016:

I think it is just a story thought up by men. Beautiful, often dangerous women that tempt men with sensual promise, doomed to disappointment when they see the fish tail. Another stereotype in a long list - the silent woman, the angel of the house, the virgin birth etc

Kelsey Elise Farrell from Orange County, CA on January 15, 2016:

This was fascinating, thanks for sharing

Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on January 04, 2016:

You're making a lot of assumptions and judgements here, none of which comes directly from the Bible, as far as I know it. Extrapolation abounds in religion and also in science, although science at least makes an attempt to prove it. However, this whole article was speculation, so I'm not dissing the process. I do thank you for your comment.

michael on January 03, 2016:

I believe if they really exist , thn they are part of what the fallen angels were experimenting with before the great flood. Was their fall not because of wanting to procreate by mating with woman. Fallen angels are known to have tempered with the creation at many levels. What plan could they have come up with to survive the flood? By tempering with human genes to alow them to survive in water. Thus prolonging their unclean spirits to remain in existence. Many of the animals who r in existence now might have come into existence because of this . Especially those whose looks and appearances rival the fact that human beings are the prime created beings by the Lord, and didn't came about thru evolving from lower unintelligent forms of ape like creatures. All this inperfections came about because of failed attempts by fallen angels to erase Lords plans about salvation thru a flesh being, a human who bears his image and likeness.

Colin Garrow from Inverbervie, Scotland on June 16, 2015:

I think if mer-folk did exist they’d have their own TV show by now and we’d all know about them. Nice idea, though.

Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on January 17, 2014:

The Philippino name is "sirena," which is similar to what other countries call sirens/mermaids. The photograph and article you're talking about, Danida, was determined by Urban Legends to be a hoax.

Caree Lee, I've been thinking more and more about the possibility that Mermaids may be our real ancestors, and that the capturing of men was actually an intent to mate and reproduce, so they didn't become too inbred. I'll likely be writing a hub about it in the near future.

Danida from London on January 11, 2014:

Hmm, creepy. I remember reading something about mermaids on the internet a while back -- someone was describing an encounter with something which resembled a mermaid -- fishtail, woman, everything, but she had demonic eyes and claws.

There's this colony of people in the Philippines (forgot their name) that live in water and only come out to sleep, and they sound like the closest things to mermaids.

Carrie Lee Night from Northeast United States on August 31, 2013:

watergeek: Very interesting... :) I believe there are a lot of undiscovered species out there living deep in our seas, forests and wastelands. Do I think mermaids exists like in the folklore we are accustomed to? No, however, there maybe something close to that or humans with mutations/birth defects etc. Thank you for writing this hub on a topic I have always been interested in. :)

Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on August 29, 2013:

I'm starting to wonder if the possibility of mermaids around is too scary for a lot of scientists. They're said to be very like us, after all, and look how we're trashing and depleting the oceans where they live. Besides, how commercially viable are they? Would they be open to our bankers giving them loans to start an ocean business, I wonder? (jk) Thanks for reading, folks.

Zara Silcock on August 29, 2013:

interesting ... thank you

mecheshier on August 24, 2013:

Fabulous article.... love the description and history.. Voted up for interesting!

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on August 22, 2013:

Very interesting. I guess we all use to poo poo at UFOs and aliens from outer space and today there is proof of many things the government hid from us so I guess it is possible. I do doubt seriously there are as attractive as they are portrayed though being more fish than human. I mean can slimy green skin ever be attractive? Of course we know men's imaginations to account for the art and drawings.

Great fun and food for thought. Entertaining. ^

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