Do mermaids exist?

I would like to know if mermaids exist, because it has never actually been proven that they do not exist or that they do exist. I would really like to know!

Asker: Diana, 12 years old

Answer

Dear Dinah,

No, mermaids don’t exist. Like Cyclopes (one-eyed giants), horsemen, trolls, and so many other mythological creatures, mermaids are purely the product of human imagination. So mermaids only appear in legends, fairy tales and fables. It is not clear where this fantasy comes from. It is true that stories about mermaids are already known from ancient times and occur in almost all cultures. It is believed, among other things, that early navigators thought they saw mermaids when they observed manatees from afar. These mammals do indeed have a mermaid-like back body. On the other hand, there is also a very rare human malformation called ‘sirenomelia’ (occurring in 1 in 60,000 to 100,000 births). Babies are born with fused legs, which also looks a bit like the ‘tail’ of a mermaid. Such deformed babies have little chance of survival, because they usually also show various other abnormalities. However, it seems unlikely that this rare deformity gave rise to the fantasy image of beautiful, graceful mermaids. Anyway, the sea and water in general have always played a major role in human imagination throughout history and numerous imaginary beings and gods have been associated with the sea or water, just think of Neptune, Poseidon, Triton, the monster Kraken, and so on. It is important to always keep in mind how our imagination can often play tricks on us, especially in relation to things that we do not yet fully understand and/or that are strange (or that we are afraid of). Moreover, our senses can sometimes mislead us, which of course gives extra food to our imagination! In short, mermaids belong to the realm of imagination and fantasy.

Kind regards,
Thierry Backeljau

Answered by

dr. Thierry Backeljau

Biology

Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences
Rue Vautier 29 1000 Brussels
http://www.naturalsciences.be

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