As previously pointed out the official explanation of mermaids is that sailors have mistaken the manatee for mermaids. Looking at a manatee or sea cow I have to say that a sailor would have to be very stupid, shortsighted or drunk to make a mistake like this. It also seems that even famous explorers like Christopher Columbus and Henry Hudson made this mistake because they also reported seeing mermaids.
The day before, when the Admiral was going to the Rio del Oro, he said he saw three mermaids who came quite high out of the water but were not as pretty as they are depicted, for somehow in the face they looked like men. He said that he saw some in Guinea on the coast of Manegueta.
And to quote from the logbook of Henry Hudson on 15 June, 1608 near the Novaya Zemlya islands.
This morning one of our companie looking over boord saw a mermaid, and called up some of the companie to see her, one come up, and by that time shee was close to the ship’s side, looking earnestly upon the men: a little after, a Sea came and overturned her: From Navill upwards, her back and breasts were like a woman’s her body as big as one of us; her skin very white; and long haire hanging downe they saw her tayle, which was like the tayle of a porposse and speckled like a Macrel.
To make sense of mermaid sightings some people have pointed out that the vagina of female sea cows is very similar to that of a human female. The suggestion is that sailors may have had sex with manatees, and perhaps to cover up this act of bestiality, they may have claimed they had intercourse with a mermaid. The difficulty with this explanation is that there are many more stories of shepherds who have sex with sheep who do seem to have the need to invent a mythical creature to cover up this act; they simply keep quiet about it. Some reports of mermaids are definitely those of sea cows. In 1739, The Scots Magazine carried a report that the crew of the ship Halifax, in the East Indies, had caught and eaten several mermaids, because they were short on rations. When they returned to London, the sailors described how the creatures moaned "with great sensibility when caught". The flesh, they claimed, tasted like veal.
This sounds horrendous if they were real mermaids, but in their description they say they are large fish, weighing two to three hundredweight and with large heads, which sounds very much like a dugong; and other people have claimed that dugongs do taste like veal. It seems very unlikely that the crew of the Halifax would have thought these animals were mermaids. It is more likely the spin put on by the newspaper reporter or the papers editor, who followed the old newspaper adage: “you don’t allow facts to get in the way of a good story”. A story about the crew of the Halifax killing and eating dugongs would be so boring, that it would not be worth reporting, but the crew also reported that these dugongs had breasts like women. This would probably be the excuse the editor needed to claim they were mermaids. Thus creating a very sensational story that has survived until the present day.
Another explanation is that sailors on long sea voyages, without the company of women, become so sex-starved that anything that remotely resembles a woman in the sea becomes a mermaid to them. This does not explain why most mermaid stories come from European seas where there are no manatees or dugongs. Also many mermaid stories come from local fishermen who do not spend months or years at sea.
Mermaids are reported all over Europe. In Ireland they were known as Merrows or Murirruhgachs, in Cornwall they were called Merrymaids, in the Shetland Islands they were known as Sea-trows, while the Germans on the Rhine called them Meerfraus. The Scandinavians called them Navmands, while the Icelanders called them Marmennills.
One suggested explanation has been that sailors and fishermen in Europe have mistaken seals for mermaids. The seal is a fairly common sea mammal, so it would be absurd if experienced fishermen, who have been fishing all their lives, would mistake a seal for a mermaid. For instance if modern people were to spot a seal and claim it was a mermaid, we would think they were incredibly ignorant. Reports of mermaids have continued right up to the 19th century and even a few in the 20th century. This means mermaid reports continue through, “the age of reason” where no one believes in mythical beasts any more. So it seems we have to believe that people who report seeing mermaids are either drunk, mentally deficient, or liars. Or is there another explanation?
As we can see from the folk-tales about unicorns and dragons, they were names of real animals. People have attempted to explain the mermaid legends by looking for an animal similar to the description of them. This is why it has been assumed that the mermaid was either a manatee or dugong. Perhaps we need to look at the mermaid story from a different perspective. For instance, it seems that they are mostly women, while there are very few reports of mermen. Oddly, there are a number of reports of mermaids having two tails! Mermaids are also known for their wonderful singing voices and their ability to dance! Yet if we take these reports seriously, we may get an understanding of what is really going on. In many mermaid stories we find they come out of the sea and even marry. Which is a very clever trick, if you have a fish’s tail. Like this story from Zennor in Cornwall.
Let’s look at the famous statue of The Little mermaid, (above) sitting at Langelinie in Copenhagen, which is one of Denmark's biggest tourist attractions. The sculptor Edvard Eriksen created the sculpture in 1913. Yet if we look at it closely, we do not find a woman with a fishtail; she has legs. In fact, it is just a sculpture of a nude woman sitting on a rock, with only her calves and feet looking fishlike. So why did the sculptor make her like this? Why did he not make her the same as mermaid myths and put a fish’s tail on her? Could it be, that he knew the reality of what mermaids really were? Many mermaid reports are simply of nude women, which we can see from the following report. –
Immediately before its getting into its natural element it seemed to have observed me, as the eyes were directed towards the eminence on which I stood. It may be necessary to remark, that previous to the period I beheld the object, I had heard it frequently reported by several persons, and some of them person whose veracity I never heard disputed, that they had seen such a phenomenon as I have described, though then, like many others, I was not disposed to credit their testimony on this subject. I can say of a truth, that it was only by seeing the phenomenon, I was perfectly convinced of its existence.
|[Photograph of a real Mermaid by Fosco Maraini from the book, Hekara, The Diving Girl’s Island of Japanese ama diver foraging for shellfish and editable seaweed.]|
|Photo taken by Aquaxel of Female Freediver using a monofin from. -http://flickr.com/photos/20079415@N00/135521110/|
Photo taken by Aquaxel of a underwater swimmer using very long flippers which Freedivers uses from. -http://www.flickr.com/photos/20079415@N00/136539966/
Click on the above link for another picture of a freediver using a monofin. Picture taken by Jon and taken from - http://www.deeperblue.com/