Mermen or Mermaids depending upon their gender. They have the lower bodies of fish and the upper bodies and heads of humans.
In the twelfth century it was reported that a merman was caught by fishermen off the east coast near Suffolk, England (UK). He seemed unable to speak when released from the nets. The merman was taken to a church, and even tortured but still not utter a sound.
Described as ‘the appearance f a man in all his parts’ the merman quickly escaped when taken to the water supposedly to bath.
‘This morning, one of our companie saw a Mermaid, and calling up some of the companie to see her, one more came up…From the navel upwards, her back and breasts were like a woman’s…her body as big as one of us; in her going downe they saw her tayle, which was the tayle of a Porposse, and speckled like a Macrell.’ Henry Hudson, Explorer, 1608.
‘My attention was arrested by the appearance of a figure resembling an unclothed human female sitting on a rock extending to the sea, apparently in the action of combing its hair. It remained on the rock three or four minutes after I observed it, and was exercised during that period in combing its hair, which was long and thick. I has a distinct view of the features, being at no great distance from an eminence above the rock on which it was sitting, and the sun brightly shining.’
‘The Carmina Gadelica’ William Munro, Schoolmaster circa 1785. .
A mermaid was said to haunt ‘Mermaid Rock’, Cornwall (UK). Whenever she was sighted it indicated that there was a shipwreck to be expected and therefore the lifeboats should be prepared. It was said that she lured the ships towards the rocks by her singing.
‘Doom Bar’, in east Cornwall, was a sand bank that used to cause many shipwrecks near the mouth to the harbour. It was believed that the sand bar caused the many disasters as the result of a mermaid that had been shot there whilst she was enjoying swimming in the harbour.
The constant arrival of fog on the Isle of Man, off England (UK), was believed to be the result of a mermaid who was rejected. She was so upset that fog surrounded the island, causing problems for the local shipping.
In 1830 a reported sighting by local people was alleged to have occurred in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland (UK). The mermaid was said to have disappeared underwater after having been hit on the back by a rock. She was later buried after being found dead on the beach.
‘The upper portion of the creature was about the size of a well-fed child of three or four years of age, with an abnormally developed breast. The hair was long and glossy, while the skin was white, soft and tender. The lower part was like a salmon, but without scales.’
The sighting of a mermaid in the UK was made in 1947 off the Isle of Muck, Scotland (UK). Sandwood, in Sutherland (UK), was once known as the ‘Land of Mermaids’ because of the number of sightings. The mermaid was described as the top half of the body resembling that of a European woman, whilst the bottom was said to resemble that of a fish. This sighting was in 1977.
In 1990 a creature, which has yet to be categorised, was found in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland (UK) believed by some to be a mermaid.
In 2009, dozens of people in the Haifa suburb have reported seeing a creature that resembles a young girl leaping out of the water and doing aerial tricks across the waves before disappearing to her home under the sea. The town’s local council is offered $1 million to anyone who could prove the creaturel exists.
During the Renaissance and Baroque eras, dugongs, frauds and victims of sirenomelia were exhibited in wunderkammers as mermaids. In the 19th century, P. T. Barnum displayed in his museum a taxidermal hoax called the Fiji mermaid. Today some taxidermists specialized in assembling or parts of dead animal, usually monkeys and fish, stitched together for the appearance of a grotesque mermaid.
The main candidate for what was described as a mermaid is the sirenian. Sirenia is an order of fully aquatic, herbivorous mammals that inhabit rivers, estuaries, coastal marine waters, swamps, and marine wetlands. Sirenians, including manatees and the Dugong, have major aquatic adaptations: arms used for steering, a paddle used for propulsion, hind limbs (legs) are two small bones floating deep in the muscle. They appear fat, but are fusiform, hydrodynamic, and highly muscular. Prior to the mid 19th century, mariners referred to these animals as mermaids.
Sirenomelia, also called “mermaid syndrome”, is a rare congenital disorder in which a child is born with his or her legs fused together and the genitalia are reduced. This condition is very rare and usually fatal within a day or two of birth because of kidney and bladder complications. Four survivors were known to have been alive as of July 2003.