When one of our Wonder Friends asked whether mermaids were real, the first person we thought to ask was Myrtle. Myrtle is the Wonderopolis mermaid that lives in the depths of the Wonder Sea. Myrtle quickly pointed out that, although mermaids exist in Wonderopolis, they’ve never been found in the oceans, seas, rivers, lakes, or ponds of Earth.
Even though mermaids aren’t real, they have fascinated us for thousands of years. But what exactly is a mermaid? When most people hear the word “mermaid,” they think of a creature that’s half-human, half-animal. Specifically, they usually envision a beautiful woman whose legs have been replaced by the long tail of a fish.
Of course, the myths and legends of mermaids also include male mermaids, known usually as mermen. Together, mermaids and mermen make up merfolk! There are many myths and legends of creatures that are half-human, half-animal. Mermaids are by far the most popular marine version of these myths and legends.
The history of mermaid legends and myths is interesting, because it is filled with many different versions of similar creatures from all sorts of cultures around the world. For example, the Babylonian fish god Era was essentially a merman that has been around for over 4,000 years. Likewise, the Greek god Triton was a merman figure that has existed for centuries.
The first stories about mermaids, though, appeared thousands of years ago in ancient Assyria. In the folklore of that culture, goddess Atargatis changed herself into a mermaid when she accidentally killed a human. This may be why many older mermaid legends associated the creatures with misfortune, including storms and shipwrecks.
This view of mermaids as dangerous creatures may also be the result of their association with the mythological Greek creatures known as sirens, which were popularized in Homer’s Odyssey. The sirens of Greek mythology were known to lure sailors into dangerous waters with their beauty and singing.
In many other cultures, however, mermaids were seen as good creatures who brought good luck and might even fall in love with humans. Indeed, these beneficent mermaids are the ones that have become popular in modern folk stories, such as Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, and movies, such as Disney’s musical version of the Andersen tale.
Have mermaids always been nothing more than myths and legends, though? Not at all! Over the years, many people have reported seeing mermaids while traveling the world’s oceans and seas. In fact, Christopher Columbus reported seeing mermaids while exploring the Caribbean.
Were Columbus and the many other sailors who have reported seeing mermaids merely delusional? Or is there something else that could explain these sightings? Some scientists think they might have an answer.
Mermaids have also often been associated with sirenia, which is a biological order of creatures that includes dugongs and manatees. This has led some scientists to believe that some mermaid sightings might actually be nothing more than misunderstood encounters with manatees or dugongs.
Or might there really be mermaids deep under the ocean waters? Today, mermaid sightings are rarely reported. In 2012, the U.S. National Ocean Service confirmed that no evidence of mermaids has ever been found. Yet, these intriguing creatures still capture our imaginations. It’s no WONDER that some people hold a special place in their hearts for mermaids and maintain a hope that they might really exist in the depths of the seas!