There’s been a lot of buzz about merfolk lately, though I suppose I’m a little late to the party. Still fun to hear, though.
Thanks to the folks over at Animal Planet, where they recently aired a special entitled “Mermaids: The New Evidence,” which is in fact a sort of sequel to an older episode from a year prior. This show was of course about mermaids and mermen, and because of this I heard that all manner of fishy people have made their way into the media. We’ve got imaginative storytellers, ambitious producers, and of course, gullible viewers – not to mention the actual oceanic swimmers themselves.
Not bad for a speculative science-fiction, because of course that’s what it is.
I admittedly first heard about this from one of my favorite podcasts, The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, (find them here: http://www.theskepticsguide.org/ ) who are overall awesome, and you know this an obscure fantasy blogger said it. You’d think I would have heard about it somewhere else, sooner, considering you know, its sorta my thing, but hey, there it is.
At any rate, I’m not interested so much in the tons of people who ended up calling National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which prompted them to release a public statement say “No, sorry guys, they aren’t real.” Nor am I particularly interested in the fact that airing the episode garnered a huge viewership – we’re talking the neighborhood of 3.6 million people, people. After all, their supporting “evidence” was a dark, blurry video supposedly filmed off the coast of Greenland (an Icelandic GeoSurvey scientist). The video itself is not hard to find on youtube.
What is interesting to me is how long we humans have had a fascination with merfolk. The earliest mermaid story is first known to appear in Assyria circa 1,000 BCE, but according to our friends at the Skeptics Guide, merfolk appear on cave paintings as long as 30,000 years ago. Now that’s cool.
Setting aside the Aquatic Ape Theory, people have likely always had a sort of dread fascination with the sea. It has been personified, deified, loved, hated and well, in more recent history, rather disrespected. I do my part, meager as it is, to keep my own pollution to a minimum when I can, but I’m not going to get into the “water=life” rhetoric either. We’re talking about mermaids here. We’re talking about something people have imagined for a very long time, for before there was ever a concept of traveling upward and into the vast sea of outer space, there was fear and imagination revolving around a vast sea much closer to home, yet more alien than flying saucers and face-huggers.
They (that is, NOAA) estimate that 95% of the ocean is still unexplored. You want to talk about frontiers? Untapped markets? Knowledge of beasties we’ve yet to imagine? Oh yes, dear readers, mermaids are probably the substance of an idle (or scared) man’s imagination, but there’s still a lot we haven’t seen.