As previously pointed out the official explanation of mermaids is that sailors have mistaken the manatee for mermaids. Now 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.
To quote from the Diary of Christopher Columbus, 9 January 1493.
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.
The Novaya Zemlya islands are off the north coast of Russia in the Arctic ocean, so in no way could a sea-cow live in such waters. To explain this, it is assumed that Hudson and his crew only saw a walrus; in spite of the fact his crew saw it close to the side of the ship. Now if it was reported, they saw a merman with a very bushy moustache, this might make some sense. But it is incredible that experienced seamen would mistake a walrus for a mermaid. So are we to believe that even Columbus and Hudson and their crews were so foolish as to mistake a sea cow or walrus for a women with a fish's tail? These men were experienced sailors and would be very well acquainted with marine life in the area. Other famous men have also claimed to have seen mermaids, like Captain John Smith who became the Governor of the Virginia Colony in the early 17th century. Like Columbus he also complained they didn't look as pretty as depicted in pictures of mermaids. The problem is; we are asked to believe that these experienced sailors were incredibly naive or foolish, because there is no other explanation for the mermaid myth.
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. So the suggestion is that sailors may have had sex with manatees, and to perhaps cover up this act of bestiality they may have claimed they had intercourse with a mermaid. The problem is that there are many more stories of shepherds who have sex with sheep and they don't invent a mythical creature to cover up this act. They simply keep quiet about it. To be fair, some mermaid reports are clearly that 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 2 to 2 hundredweight, with large heads, which sounds very much like a dugong, and it is claimed, from other people, that dugongs do taste like veal. Now it is 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 wouldn't 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, 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-staved, that anything that remotely resembles a woman in the sea becomes a mermaid to them. The problem with this, is that most mermaid stories come from Europe and there are no manatees or dugongs in European waters. Also many mermaid stories come from local fishermen who don't 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 Scandanavians called them Navmands and the Russians called them Rusalkas, while the Icelanders called them Marmennills.
To explain this, it has been suggested that sailors and fishermen in Europe have mistaken seals for mermaids. Now 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 anymore. 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 folktales 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 Corwall.
The people of Zennor had long wondered at the beauty of a richly dressed lady who attended divine service at the church. None knew whence she came, but when she fell in love with Matthew Trewella and lured him away, tongues began to wag. Neither was seen again for many years, until one Sunday morning the sailors on a ship anchored near Pendower Cove were surprised to see a mermaid rising from the water, and recognised her as none other than the mysterious visitor to Zennor Church. She asked the captain to raise his anchor, as it was barring the entrance to her house. Her likeness can be seen to this day carved on a pew-end in Zennor Church.
If we take away the magical element of her living in a house below the sea, this story is very much like the French story of Melusine. Like Melusine she is a rich woman, and it is she who takes the initiative in we don't find a woman with a fish's tail; 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 didn't he 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. -
From The Times newspaper, 8th September 1809.
About twelve years ago when I was Parochial Schoolmaster at Reay, in the course of my walking on the shore of Sandside Bay, being a fine warm day in summer, I was induced to extend my walk towards Sandside Head, when my attention was arrested by the appearance of a figure resembling an unclothed human female, sitting upon a rock extending into the sea, and apparently in the action of combing its hair, which flowed around its shoulders, and of a light brown colour. The resemblance which the figure bore to its prototype in all its visible parts was so striking, that had not the rock on which it was sitting been dangerous for bathing, I would have been constrained to have regarded it as really an human form, and to an eye unaccustomed to the situation, it must have undoubtedly appeared as such. The head was covered with hair of the colour above mentioned and shaded on the crown, the forehead round, the face plump. The cheeks ruddy, the eyes blue, the mouth and lips of a natural form, resembling those of a man; the teeth I could not discover, as the mouth was shut; the breasts and abdomen,
pursuing Matthew Trewella, and they end up living in her house. This is the opposite of the conventions of the time, when women were supposed to be submissive, and everything she had, was owned either by her father or husband. Yet again we also have a mermaid that can magically create legs when she walks on land.
Let's look at the famous statue of The Little mermaid, (on left) 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, the arms and fingers of the size in which the hands were employed, did not appear to be webbed, but as to this I am not positive. It remained on the rock three or four minutes after I observed it, and was exercised during that period in combing its hair, which was long and thick, and of which it appeared proud, and then dropped into the sea, which was level with the abdomen, from whence it did not reappear to me, I had a distinct view of its features, being at no great distance on an eminence above the rock on which it was sitting, and the sun brightly shining.
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.
If the above narrative can in any degree be subservient towards establishing the existence of a phenomenon hitherto almost incredible to naturalists, or to remove the scepticism of others, who are ready to dispute everything which they cannot fully comprehend, you are welcome to it from,
Your most obliged, and most humble servant,
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