Since the beginning of recorded history, legends have been born surrounding the elegant, beautiful, and sometimes treacherous mermaid. Their siren songs, beautiful looks, and ocean dwelling lifestyle has made the mermaid an enigma in the minds of people everywhere. Cultures across the world have their own versions of this magical being, from the ningyo of Japan to Ariel of Disney fame. A question does come to mind at the mention of mermaids: are they real?
For centuries, people from all walks of life have claimed to see this myth in the flesh. Are they real sightings? Are they tricks of the light and the eye? Are people feigning mermaid discoveries for the attention and publicity? It seems history has not answered any of those questions, as sightings are still occurring to this day. Is the mermaid a legend, or is her powerful song still pulling people into her mythical realm?
10The Mermaid of Kiryat Yam
In 2009, mermaid fever swept through the Israeli town of Kiryat Yam as a mermaid was making appearances at dusk, often performing tricks for locals and tourists alike. People in the town were claiming to see a being that was part young woman and part fish. The first local to have seen the mermaid claims that she was sunbathing, and as he and his friends approached her, she bounded from the sand and disappeared into the waves. They were all shocked to discover that the sunbathing woman had no legs, but a tail instead.
This one sighting was not an isolated event; as word spread about the mermaid, hundreds of people came forward claiming they had seen the Kiryat Yam mermaid. The Kiryat Yam mermaid has become so popular, that the town council has offered a one million dollar reward for any evidence that this mysterious creature exists. So far, only passing glances have been noted, and no one is a million dollars richer.
9Columbus and Caribbean Mermaids
Christopher Columbus is famously known for his encounters with mermaids on his voyages near Hispaniola. Columbus wrote in his ship’s log that he and the crew encountered three mermaids whilst in the water around the island of Hispaniola. Columbus documents that the mermaids were cavorting in the water, and when the ship drew near, the three mermaids rose out of the water.
To Columbus’s dismay, the mermaids were not as beautiful as depicted in the stories of yore. Columbus thought the mermaids to be quite undesirable and mannish. Today, it is believed that Columbus and his waterlogged crew were actually seeing a group of manatees. Questions arise, however: would a seasoned captain like Columbus truly mistake the chubby sea cow for a woman, no matter her appearance?
In 2012, constructions crews in Zimbabwe were scared away from their work on the Gokwe and Osbourne dams by an irate mermaid. Referred to as the mamba muntu by the locals, the mermaids were harassing workers as they attempted to complete construction on the dams. The local workers, raised in an area of folklore and myth, believed the appearance of the mamba muntu to be a bad omen and refused to finish construction on the dam.
The local council, in an attempt to pursue the continued construction of the dams, hired white workers to finish the job; this was an attempt to hire persons not engulfed in the legend and popularity of the mamba muntu sightings. However, these workers fled the construction site as well, and they vowed never to return due to the rage and harassment of the Zimbabwe river mermaid.
In an attempt to placate the irritated mermaids, local council members and chieftains decided to perform ritual rites and cleansings to allow for further development of the dams. The natural and supernatural are often of the same realm in the country of Zimbabwe; mermaids, or just illusions of the brain and eye?
7The Orang Ikan
During 1943, World War II was still raging on; the war, however, did not stop the appearance of one of the most well-documented mermaid sightings. On the Kei Islands of Indonesia, Japanese soldiers had set up a surveillance team. During the time there, several members of the surveillance team reported seeing a small humanoid figure in the water with spines on its neck and head and a mouth like a carp. The mermaid figure was often seen playing in lagoons and near the beach shores of the Kei Islands. The Japanese soldiers were bewildered by what they were seeing, but after speaking to the natives, they learned that the mystical mermaid-like creature was actually a known entity called the orang ikan or “human fish.”
As sightings continued, a sergeant with the group, Mr. Taro Horiba, was invited by the indigenous people of the island to see what they had caught in their fishing nets. Upon arrival at the village, he entered the chieftain’s home to find one of these creatures splayed out on the floor. Horiba described a small body with red-brown hair, spines along the neck, a humanoid face with a lipless, fish-like mouth full of needle sharp teeth. Mr. Horiba was confused and shocked by what he saw and urged zoologists to investigate after the war. No one believed any of his stories of mermaids in the Kei Islands. Did Mr. Horiba see a true mermaid or was this a simple misidentification?
6Active Pass Mermaid
In 1967, British Colombia became a hub of mermaid excitement when a mermaid was spotted lounging on the shore of Mayne Island. Ferry riders that evening saw a blonde woman sitting on the beach shore, she was topless, had long blonde hair, and the tail of a porpoise. Some witnesses became very upset as they believed they saw the mermaid eating a salmon, raw, on the beach that day.
After the sighting by the ferry passengers, the mermaid was seen one more time the following week. As the locals got swept up by the spotting of this mysterious mermaid, the town locals began to seek any information relating to her. The town newspaper, The Colonist, put up at $25,000 reward for the mermaid. Arrangements were even made for the mermaid to have room and board once she was found and successfully acclimated into the town setting. Although many believe that this entire mermaid sighting was a charade, there were still many who believed that what they saw was real. Is the Mayne Island mermaid a myth and or a well-played tourism ploy?
In 2008, waves were being made in South Africa as a legendary mermaid called the Kaaiman was making a splash in the news. A group of friends were camping near a river when they heard loud splashing and loud banging noises. Upon further investigation, the group came upon a woman in the water. The woman appeared to be pale white, with long black hair. Her skin had an opalescence that made her seem as if she was nearly glowing. The most shocking feature was seen when the woman turned to the group—she had piercing red eyes.
A woman ran to investigate the claims that the Kaaiman had been seen. She noted that the mermaid made a sorrowful cry, like a woman crying. After a moment of chaos with the group, the mermaid disappeared into the murky water. People of South Africa are leery of the Kaaiman, as she is known for pulling people under and trapping them beneath the depths with the objects in which you most desire. A distressed swimmer or a legendary mermaid? The people of South Africa are still questioning if they saw a legend in the flesh.
Scotland has countless mysteries and legends, with mermaids taking a place in their folklore. However, in 1830, a mermaid was apparently seen and subsequently killed by the people of Benbecula. While cutting seaweed near the shore one day, a woman claimed to have a seen a miniature woman swimming in the water. Surprised by her discovery, she called many people over to view the water dweller. As men began to rush at her in the water, she quickly swam out of their reach. Some boys in the group threw stones at the scared mermaid, one actually striking her in the back. A few days later, the corpse of the mermaid supposedly washed up on the shore. Like many of the other claims of mermaids, this one was small, with pale white skin and had the tail of a fish without scales.
After the body of the deceased mermaid had been found, the sheriff of the town thought it was only fitting that the mermaid have a proper burial. A coffin was made and the body was wrapped in a shroud. The mermaid’s coffin was then buried above the shoreline where she was found. Although the tale of the mermaid’s grave has withstood the test of time, no one is certain where the body was buried; no markers or signs have denoted where she may lie. So what did the people Benbecula see that day? Did they actually make the horrible mistake of killing a legend?
3The New Zealand Mermaid
New Zealand found itself swept up in mermaid legends when, in 2014, a crew of fisherman claimed to have found the remains of a mermaid on the South Island . The fishermen were concerned they had discovered the body of a possible murder victim. However, upon closer inspection by local authorities, it was evident that the skeleton was not entirely human.
The body resembled that of a human-like creature that was shown to have aquatic features. The discovery ran rampant with everyone in New Zealand learning about the aquatic humanoid found on the South Island. Since the authorities were unsure what to make of the find, the University of Auckland was brought in to explain what the fisherman had found. Can mermaids be added to the already odd assortment of wildlife found in the land of New Zealand?
2Bering Sea Mermaids
Henry Hudson was exploring the cold northern waters off Norway in the year 1608. Written in his journal, he describes a day when he had a strange encounter with a group of mermaids. The mermaid, Hudson claimed, saw his crew and proceeded to call up more of her mermaid sisters. He described the women as being as big as the men in his crew, with very white skin and long dark hair. Making his way down their bodies, Hudson discovered the tail which he described like that of a dolphin, but with the spotting of a mackerel. Hudson seemed thrilled with his discovery of mermaids.
Like many of the sailors of the time, people often assume that it is possible that sailors on the high seas were mistaking animals, often manatees, as these nautical beauties. Hudson’s case is strange because, sailing in the Bering Sea near Norway, there are no manatees. Naturalist Philip Henry Gosse, in his mid-1800s work The Romance of Natural History, believes there is no way that Hudson was mistaking an animal for this mermaid. He believes seasoned sailors such as Hudson would be able to identify animals in that location easily. Gosse believes Hudson either made this entire story up or Hudson saw something truly unique to the realm of science. Are their mermaids living in the cold arctic waters? Or was this just a wild sailor’s tale?
1The Deerness Mermaid
Scotland appears to have its fair share of mermaid sightings throughout history. Beginning in 1890, Newark Bay became the location of multiple mermaid sightings. Many people thought the talk of mermaids was just hearsay and rumor, however, many people began sharing their tales of what they termed the Deerness mermaid. However, this mermaid was not the beauty of past legends. People described a seven-foot long humanoid, with pale white skin and black hair. The locals described her crawling onto rocks using her arms and sliding back into the waves. The few glances of her that people got were at a distance; the Deerness mermaid was apparently quite wary and stayed far from the beach shore. However, the Deerness mermaid only stayed in the bay for a few summers and then silently disappeared back into the murky depths. Mermaid or whale? Fact or fiction? For the people of Newark Bay, the legend lives on.
Library tech, grad student, and nerd girl extraordinaire. Love animals, science, and all things weird.