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Mermaids: An In-depth Guide:

What is a mermaid: 

Historically, mermaids have been described as mythical creatures of the sea. Mermaids are typically described as a human woman from the waist up and having a scaled fish tail from the waist down.  Holding their origin in most of the early sea-side settlements, every culture has a rendition of the beautiful humanoid creature of the sea. Occasionally, depending on the mythology, mermaids have been given prophetic and/or magical powers. These powers could often be seen through their love of music, more particularly singing, which is always observed as beautiful. While they have a long life, similar to a human, they were only mortal and never observed to have a soul.


Are Mermaids Real:

Unfortunately, a real mermaid has never truly been examined in the wild. There have been instances where sailors have seen and contacted the mermaids but we still have no physical proof that mermaids are real. So in short, as of right now, mermaids are considered to be only a myth. This goes hand in hand with the idea from scientific scholars stating that it would be most likely scientifically impossible that a warm bodied human half could be attached to a cold bodied lower fish half. It has also been noted that there has never been one skeleton of a mermaid be found or washed up. Therefore, there has never been any scientific proof to be studied and to prove that mermaids exist.  However, there is some consensus that a mermaid with all mammal qualities could exist in the ocean, have a similar existence to a dolphin, or orca. Mermaids are still thought to have a possibility because as of right now, the ocean has barely been explored. Actually, only around 6% of the ocean has truly been explored and it can only be assumed that mermaids could be somewhere in the ocean. 

Where did the mermaid tale originate:

Hand in hand with Atargatis, the belief in mermaids has been traced as far back as 1000 BC in Assyria. However, following Assyria, many different geographical locations all experienced different variations of mermaids. The Greecian empire referred to them as children of Acheloos and in Ireland where they referred to mermaid-like creatures as Merrows. In short, there was not one singular story that built the Mermaid that we know today, cultures from far and wide did eventually land on the idea of half human half fish creatures that live in the sea.


Atargatis, the first Mermaid

The first mermaids in ancient cultures were worshiped as gods and goddesses and appeared in mythology between 700 b.c. to 1000 b.c.  The earliest mermaid myth appeared in Assyria in 1000 b.c. and told the story of how a goddess named Atargatis became a mermaid. 
Atargatis was in love with a human shepherd but accidentally killed him.  Out of guilt, the goddess flung herself into the ocean hoping to become a fish.  But her beauty was so great, that she never could fully become a fish.  Instead she became half goddess, half fish, with a tail below the waist and human body above the waist. 
The worship of Atargatis began in ancient Assyria and spread as far as Rome and Greece.  She is also known as Derketo in Greek mythology and is thought to have been the inspiration for the worship of the Greek goddess Aphrodite.  Atargatis is considered to be the Great Mother and Goddess of Fertility of the earth and water.  The spread of civilization in the ancient East is also attributed to Atargatis as she is said to have taught the people social and religious practices.    
Doves and fish were her sacred animals, doves symbolizing love and fish symbolizing that she was the fertility of the waters.  Fish were so sacred to her that in the Syrian town of  Ascalon,  people were forbidden from eating fish from a lake near Atargatis’s temple.  These fish were very well kept, had jewels on their heads and were as affectionate as pets when they were approached by people from the town. Her close ties to the conservation of fish and water fertility explain why the ancient goddess was depicted as a mermaid
Mermaids have and always be considered goddesses of the sea which is the exact reason we include them in our Freaky Tiki shirts and other beachwear clothing!

Most famous mermaids:

By far Ariel is one of the most famous mermaids that we know and love today. Hoisted to fame, Disney romanticized the idea of mermaids and the undersea kingdom that the mermaids resided in. While Disney's rendition of the little mermaid ends with a happily ever after, the original creators' (Hans Christian Anderson's) vision wasn't so endearing. The Original story being "nymph of the fairy tale" depicts a little mermaid similar to Ariel loving a shipwrecked prince and following him to land. To follow him to land she had to exchange her tail for human legs which could not be reexchanged again. Finally when the prince marries someone else, the little mermaid cannot return to the water resulting in her death and turning her foam. 



The second most famous mermaids that we know of are the sirens of the odyssey. Known for being one of the largest downfalls of the Greek sailors. The sirens drive the men of the ship to the side of the ship and then overboard, to meet the beautiful Siren. Only to find their demise from the once beautiful angelic sounding mermaid to death dealing creatures trying to steal the lives of the sailors.


The third most famous mermaid that you'll find is one that you're more than likely familiar with: the Starbucks Mermaid. While the modern design of the Starbucks logo has been toned down from the original, the popular coffee shop is actually named  after a character from Moby Dick. Then from there, the store wanted to add a sea-faring logo to remember the seafaring origin.


What could a mermaid be:

Like we said earlier in the article, Mermaids have never been found as well as their remains and places they would have resided. Since we have never found a mermaid, what could these reported historical sightings be? It has been theorized that mermaids could be quite a few different things. In Japan, the Ama are a historical group of female divers that only wear a loincloth when they dive. It is argued that sailors off the shore could have noticed these divers and thought they were mermaids. 


Another Idea surrounding Christopher Columbus is in his writing, he claims to have come across mermaids while on his way to the Americas. However, people theorize that those mermaids that he came across were actually Manatees Floating off the coast of the Americas. While he did claim in his writings that they were "beautiful" it can only be inferred that they were manatees since they would've been around the same time as Columbus was landing. 

Mermaid Hoaxes:

The top of the list in the term of mermaid hoaxes is the master of hoaxes P.T.Barnum's Fiji Mermaid. Exhibited in the 19th century, this spectacle became immensely popular to the American public as it was displayed in Barnum's American Museum. In reality, Barnum's Mermaid was really, in fact, a very taxidermyd top half of a monkey sewn to the bottom half of a fish. One of Barnum's Mermaids is now housed in the Ripley's Believe it or not museums in London and is referred to as Darling. 


Now many of the creations that are going by mermaids try to claim to be the original Barnum Mermaid. 

Because people love to see something that's bizarre, many modern documentaries have been made about these hoaxed or potentially real mermaids. The most popular being the discovery channel's show about hoaxes and it's in depth view of mermaids on that particular episode. 

Where could mermaids live:

In general, it is widely known that mermaids could be found in the ocean but where in the ocean might a mermaid live. Keep in mind that the ocean has only been a little explored so the possibility of mermaids could be possible. 


The number one place that a mermaid would want to live would be on the coastline of a tropical destination. It is unknown how the temperature can affect a mermaid but if it is similar to the average human, they will need warmer weather. Being on the coastline of a tropical island would also give them a high source of different fish and the possibility of finding food on the edge of the island like fruit and even possibly leaves. 


The next best option after a tropical island would be a volcanic island. Volcanic islands allow for a large source of food since a lot of seaweed, crustacean, and smaller fish can cling on and hide among the cliffs. Volcanic islands have caves which give a good place for shelter and have quite a lot of rocks and beaches that could give a mermaid a chance to rest and sunbath. Lastly, Similar to the tropical islands, a volcanic island can heat up the water around it making it much more likely to host a mermaid's residence.  


A less likely place that a mermaid would live is on or near an iceberg area. The food source would be plentiful because the arctic insects that live on these icebergs support many large more efficient marine life. However, the arctic would most likely be too cold for the mermaids to survive in.

Mermaid Sightings: 

In the last 100 years or so there have only been a handful of mermaid sightings. The oldest sighting on our list is the Kei Islands in 1943. During the time when the Japanese soldiers were stationed on the Kei Islands. The villagers of the island called these creatures the Orang Ikan or human fish. One of the soldiers described the mermaid as a human looking mermaid with a mouth of a carp.

Followed by British Columbia, Canada in 1967.

While on a boat tour, tourists spotted a mermaid with white hair sitting on a rock, eating and enjoying the waves.

Then Kaiwi Point, Hawaii in 1998. 

During one of his outings as a diver for Jack's Diving Locker, he was intercepted by a woman figure with the tail of a fish. While he was a few meters deep, the mermaid swam over him and he snapped a picture with his underwater camera. Unfortunately, it is only a silhouette but still a fascinating picture. 

The two most recent sightings were in 2009 Israel and 2013 Zimbabwe. Some mermaids, it appears, simply want to be left alone. In Zimbabwe, workmen were constructing a dam in 2012. The employees, however, were startled by a pesky mermaid, and they refused to finish the project. The local chiefs were going to perform rituals to get rid of the mermaid, but the employees refused to return, according to Water Resources Minister Sam Sipepa Nkomo, who testified before the Senate Committee.


What is a siren v. a mermaid: 

Sirens are mythical beings or people from Greek mythology. They were identified as nymphs who resided on islands surrounded by cliffs and used their voice and song to lure approaching sailors. The appearance of the sirens has been a source of confusion, since they are described as birds with human heads in some legends and as half woman and half fish in others, giving them the appearance of mermaids. There's also a misunderstanding because the name for mermaids in certain languages, such as French, is siren. In majority of the myths, though, sirens are shown singing melodies to entice sailors. Sailors were enticed into losing their sense of direction, resulting in shipwreck and drowning on the sea.​

  • Mermaids and sirens are not both aquatic species. 

  • Mermaids appear in folklore and stories from many nations and civilizations, but sirens are solely mentioned in Greek mythology.

  • Mermaids are depicted as peaceful and kind, whereas sirens are thought to be wicked. 

  • Mermaids are half woman, half fish, whilst sirens are said to be female-headed birds. 

  • Sirens perform melodies to captivate seafarers and lead them to drown. In other legends, they are also depicted as man-eaters. 

  • Mermaids, on the other hand, are always represented as peaceful and helpful entities that are eager to assist humans. 

  • They even fall in love with humans in certain cases.


Mermaid mythologies: 


Oannes, or Ea, the sea-god, was said to have emerged from the Erythrean Sea and taught the arts and sciences to the people. He's shown as a merman with a fish-like tail and a man's upper torso.



As the tides ebbed and flowed with the moon, the Semetic mermaid moon-goddess Atargatis was represented as a mermaid. This is reflected in the god-like personifications found in Syrian art and literature. Atargatis was one of the earliest mermaids to be documented, and legend has it that her child Semiramis was a regular human, which caused Atargatis to feel humiliated and kill her lover. She turned into a fish after abandoning the child.


Greek and Roman

Some of the early written descriptions of the mermaid may be found in Greek and Roman art and literature. The Greek Poseidon and the Roman Neptune were frequently shown as half-man, half-fish, but the triton, the offspring of the strong sea-god, was the most famous theme of the ancient world that showed mermen. Specimens of tritons were reported to have been discovered in classical times in Tanagara and Rome, however experts today believe they were fakes, exactly like the mermaid bones unearthed in late-nineteenth-century freak exhibitions, according to Pausanias.


The Celts and the British Isles

The British Isles have their own merfolk legends. Originally, British mermaids did not have tails, but when sailors from the Mediterranean began to trade more often, the concept of a half-human, half-fish creature grew in popularity. Mermaids were known as merry maids in Cornwall, and merrows or muirruhgach in Ireland. According to some tales, they lived under the sea on dry land and wore charmed hats that allowed them to cross through the ocean without drowning. The males, on the other hand, had crimson noses, were piggy-eyed, had green hair and teeth, and had a taste for brandy. According to some traditions, the merrow was thought to herald an approaching storm, and WB Yeats wrote in his Irish Folkstories and Fairytales: It was quite aggravating to Jack that, while living in an area where the merrows were as plentiful as lobsters, he could never obtain a good glimpse of one. The mermaid is known in the Shetlands as the sea-trow, since it can shed its animal hide and swim through the ocean like a fish before walking on land like people. The selkies (or seal folk) of Orkney were related to mermaids, and there was a tradition of a terrifying aquatic monster known as Jenny Greenteeth all across Britain.



The neck, like the havmand (merman) and havfrue (mermaid), could dwell in both salt and freshwater. Havfine, or Norwegian mermaids, were thought to have volatile personalities. Some were believed to be compassionate, while others were known to be ruthless, and seeing one was considered highly unfortunate.



The nixe, also known as the meerfrau (sea maiden), lived in freshwater lakes and rivers. The nixe would occasionally show herself in human form at markets, when she could be recognized by the damp corner of her apron. It would be an expensive year if she paid a high price for items, but if she paid a low price, the prices for that year would remain low. The Rhine has inspired legends of Rhinemaidens, also known as the Lorelei, and a monster known as Melusine, a double-tailed mermaid.


Russia and the Slavic countries

In Russia and the Slavic countries, the rusalka (a water-nymph who drowned swimmers) and the vodyanoy (a masculine water-spirit who accompanied sailors and fisherman) are two of the most prevalent mermaid forms.



Some of the African continent's mermaid legends include tales of a fish-wife and river-witches.


India and Asia

Fishermen worshiped the apsaras (celestial flute-playing water-nymphs), one of India's numerous gods. Not only were there mermaids in Asia, but also sea-dragons and dragon-wives. Ningyo, a Japanese mermaid, was represented as a fish with just a human head.



Vatea, a half-human, half-porpoise creator in Polynesian mythology, was represented as half-human, half-porpoise. Not all ancient aquatic gods or spiritual personifications assumed the shape of a mermaid or merman. Water-nymphs were similar to mermaids in appearance and musical ability, which mermaids are well renowned for, whether through singing or playing a musical instrument. Sirens are frequently confused for mermaids as well. The siren and the mermaid, on the other hand, are two distinct beings, with one having the upper body of a young woman and the lower body of a bird and the other having the top body of a young woman and the bottom body of a fish.

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