Mermaids have been a persistent part of a huge variety of cultures for at least the last 3,000 years. But are these strange creatures – half-human and half-fish – entirely mythical? Is there even a grain of truth to mermaid stories – or are they instead just a collection of fishy tales? Well, read on for ten reports of mermaids from across the ages and decide what you think.
10. Christopher Columbus
In 1492 Christopher Columbus set off westward from Spain to try to find a new trade route to the riches of Asia. However, as is widely documented, his expedition ended up in the Americas. Then, the following year, Columbus reported sighting mermaids off the coast of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.
The explorer subsequently wrote in his journal that three “female forms” were spotted and that “they rose high out of the sea but were not as beautiful as they are represented.” And, in fact, the existence of mermaids was widely accepted at the time. However, modern researchers now believe that the creatures that Columbus saw were most likely manatees – animals that the navigator probably had no knowledge of.
9. Henry Hudson
Another historical figure who confidently reported seeing a mermaid was the English explorer Henry Hudson. He’s the very Hudson who gave his name to the river that runs down the western flank of Manhattan. And in 1607, after being commissioned by London merchants, Hudson had set off in search of a trade passage to the Far East.
But while the 1607 expedition failed, Hudson set off again in 1608. Furthermore, on that trip, he reported in his log, “This morning one of our companie looking over boord saw a Mermaid.” Hudson went on to give a detailed description of the mermaid: apparently, she had a human body from the navel up and white skin. The being was also said to have possessed long black hair and a tail like that of a porpoise, with markings akin to those of a mackerel.
8. The Mayne Island mermaid
It was in June 1967 that passengers aboard a Canadian ferry apparently spotted a mermaid on the shore of Mayne Island, which lies between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia. A local newspaper, the Times Colonist, wrote, “Several witnesses said the mermaid had a large fish, apparently coho salmon, and one swore she had taken a bite out of it. Long, silver-blonde hair and topless condition were generally agreed upon.”
The Times Colonist even printed a picture, taken by a ferry passenger. What’s more, local man George White offered a reward of $25,000 to anyone who could confirm the existence of the mermaid, saying that he would enter into a contract with her and arrange accommodation. Sadly, Times Colonist journalist Dave Obee tracked down the mermaid in 2016 and found her to be a lady called Judy Allred – a human who had worn a mermaid costume.
7. Mermaids in Zimbabwe
In 2012 Samuel Sipepa Nkomo, Zimbabwean minister for water resources development and management, told a government committee that mermaids were delaying vital work on much-needed reservoirs in the country. Accordingly, there were problems at dam construction sites in Gokwe, Mutare and Manicaland. Zimbabwean newspaper The Herald quoted Nkomo as saying, “All the officers I have sent have vowed not to go back there, and I am now appealing to the chiefs to do what is necessary to correct the problem.”
Nkomo went on to say that rites to mollify the spirits and the brewing of beer might improve the situation. The Herald also quoted him as explaining, “We even hired whites thinking that our boys did not want to work, but they also returned saying they would not return to work there again.” It’s worth pointing out, though, that as Nkomo made his report, committee members were said to have been “in stitches.”
6. Dead mermaid
This decidedly gruesome photo purports to show the decomposing corpse of a mermaid washed ashore in Great Yarmouth, a seaside town on the east coast of England. Paul Jones published the ghoulishly graphic pictures on his Facebook page in October 2016 with a post reading, “Today at Great Yarmouth we found what looks like a dead mermaid washed up on the beach.”
British tabloid the Daily Mirror seemed to have some doubts about the authenticity of the dead mermaid story, however. It reported in particular that Jones was an enthusiastic model-maker, specializing in gruesome pieces. What’s more, he was a member of a Facebook group entitled Horror and Halloween DIY. Meanwhile, skeptical journalist Sara C. Nelson at The Huffington Post wrote that the mermaid’s tail looked as though it was made of trash bags.
5. Israeli mermaids
It was 2009 when people apparently started to see mermaids at the Israeli town of Kiryat Yam, a seaside community on the country’s Mediterranean coast. Shlomo Cohen told the Livescience website, “I was with friends when suddenly we saw a woman laying on the sand in a weird way. At first I thought she was just another sunbather, but when we approached she jumped into the water and disappeared. We were all in shock because we saw she had a tail.”
And Kiryat Yam’s tourist authority seemed to be overjoyed by the publicity the story generated. The local town hall even went as far as to offer a $1 million reward for the first photo of the mermaid. A spokesman said, “I believe if there really is a mermaid then so many people will come to Kiryat Yam, a lot more money will be made than $1 million.” As far as we know, though, Kiryat Yam’s $1 million is still in the bank.
4. South African mermaids
The South African version of the mermaid is known as the “kaaiman,” and one was allegedly sighted in Western Cape Province in 2008. In particular, the kaaiman was seen swimming in the Buffelsjags River near the village of Suurbraak. Local resident Daniel Cupido subsequently told West Cape News that he had heard a strange noise coming from the river. As a result, he’d gone to investigate from the vantage point of a low bridge.
Cupido explained that he had spotted a figure “like that of a white woman with long black hair thrashing about in the water.” Thinking she needed rescuing, he then approached the being. He halted abruptly, though, when he noticed a weird red glow shining from her eyes. Apparently, there are tales of kaaiman stretching back over three generations – stories that Suurbraak tourism official Maggy Jantjies has said are “something we have to take seriously.”
3. Earliest mermaids
Mermaid tales have been with us for millennia. Perhaps the earliest accounts of these sea creatures, though, date back to the time of the Assyrians – around 1000 B.C. At that time, an Assyrian goddess called Atargatis was said to have fallen in love with a shepherd. She killed him by accident, however, and her guilt over the matter caused her to leap into a lake. There, Atargatis apparently turned into a fish with the head and arm of a human.
An ancient Greek legend also had it that Thessalonike, the sister of Alexander the Great, became a mermaid after she died. She swam the waters of the Aegean and asked any mariner she met, “Is King Alexander alive?” Giving an affirmative answer, the sailors could travel on safely. But if they answered “no,” Thessalonike would whip up a tempest that would kill the sailor and all of his crew mates.
2. Captain John Smith’s mermaid
In his 1967 book Incredible Mysteries and Legends of the Sea, Edward Rowe Snow recounted the tale of a certain Captain John Smith, an English explorer. In 1614 Captain Smith had allegedly sighted a graceful mermaid swimming in the sea near the Newfoundland shores. The being in question reportedly had large eyes, a fine nose and elongated ears.
The mermaid’s hair, meanwhile, was green – a distinguishing characteristic that the good captain found strangely attractive. Indeed, it seems that the mermaid stirred a powerful carnal passion within Smith. Consequently, he was sadly disappointed to observe that the creature was fish-shaped from the waist down.
1. Mermaid bones
Japanese mermaids are called “ningyo” and are often portrayed with scary teeth and threatening horns. Furthermore, in the Japanese city of Fukuoka, the Ryuguji Temple has an extraordinary exhibit: the bones of a ningyo from the 13th century. The mermaid’s body is said to have been discovered on the shore on April 14, 1222.
Apparently, a shaman declared that this event was a propitious one for the whole country, and so the mermaid’s bones were taken to the temple. Later, in the 18th century, water in which the bones had been soaked was even believed to protect against disease. Interestingly, though, some believe that what the ancient Japanese believed to be ningyo were actually dugongs – an animal related to the manatee.
Bonus Entry: The Hawaiian Hoax
The mermaid pictured here washed up on the beach at Kilauea Falls on Hawaii in 2014. And The Richmond Globe duly reported the find, writing, “There’s been no official explanation of the appearance from any Hawaiian authorities, although eyewitness testimonials say that government officials and scientists were quick on the scene to remove the body.”
But like so many stories of mermaid sightings, this one is a complete hoax. In fact, if you do a little searching on the internet, you’ll soon see why the mermaid looks convincing. Why? Well, it’s because the figure is in fact a prop from one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies…