Thursday, April 26, 2012

Some Sailors Used to Mistake Manatees For Mermaids

Photographer: Ltshears (via Wikimedia Commons)
Legends about mermaids have been around for thousands of years. Many people used to believe these mythical beauties were real (when you think of sailors stuck out at sea for large amounts of time, it's understandable), and some people claimed to have seen them. Even Christopher Columbus said he saw three of them in 1943, and commented that they were "not half as beautiful as they are painted." Now, it's generally accepted that these sailors probably saw manatees, or their cousins dugongs or Steller's sea cows (now extinct).

So, how in the world did people mistake this 12-foot, 1,200 pound marine mammal for a creature that's half woman and half fish? For the most part, manatees remain underwater, and the sailors would usually only see a back and tail with no dorsal fin, which is how mermaids were often depicted. If a manatee head did surface so that a sailor could see the vaguely human-like eyes and face in the right light, it would add to the illusion. Female manatees also have two breasts, one under each armpit (in fact, the word "manatee" comes from the Carib word "manati," which means "with breasts"). One should also keep in mind that these sailors were malnourished, trapped in the poor conditions of the ship, and starving for female contact. They simply weren't thinking straight.

The manatee-mermaid association has made it into the scientific classification of these animals. They belong to the order Sirenia, which is named after the Sirens of Greek mythology (even though the Sirens were originally part woman and part bird, they later became associated with mermaids).

1 comment:

  1. Ancient Sailors must be nearsighted or very sick to mistake these creatures for mermaids. Even drunk/and or sick I would have never mistaken a manatee for a mermaid.

    Or perhaps there is another explanation for the myth then the one the scient are grasping at since there is no reasonable answer for there cold logic.