If you’re interested to know are mermaids real, either you’ve just come across one of the famous mermaids in a book or movie, or you saw an intriguing and beguiling sight while out on your boat and can’t believe your eyes!
Whatever the reason, we can let you know that, no, mermaids are not real.
We will tell you everything there is to know about these mythical creatures. Then, we’ll consider what a mermaid is and look at some of the most famous (alleged) half-woman, half-fish sightings throughout history.
What is a Mermaid?
Mermaids in the ocean are mythical aquatic creatures that are half-human and half-fish.
Mermaid comes from the old English words for the sea (mere) and for a young woman or girl (maid) because specifically, a mermaid is half-woman.
The male version is called a merman, although these tend to be far less common or popular than their female counterparts.
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In all of the mermaid bodies that we could find, the upper half of the mermaid is human, while the lower half is a fishtail.
Many mermaids are described as beautiful, and they will usually have long enchanting hair.
Mermaids exist both in folklore and in claimed sightings throughout history across almost every part of the world.
Sometimes they are blamed for wrecking ships in storms, although other tales tell of mermaids saving sailors from danger.
For many people, their image of a mermaid exists thanks to the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. His book “The Little Mermaid,” first published in 1837, is world-famous.
Not only is there the well-known statue of the mermaid in Copenhagen, Denmark, but there is also the popular Disney film of the same name.
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There is no scientific evidence to prove that mermaids exist. Many naturalists trying to explain the phenomenon have suggested that sailors may have seen a marine mammal like a dugong, manatee, or a seal.
As we will see, many sightings have been made over thousands of years and continue to be reported in modern times.
12 Mermaid Sightings in History
To decide for yourself if mermaids are real, look at these famous mermaid sightings in history. You can consider if these are real mermaid sightings if they’re mistaken, or simply made up.
#1 Roman Gaul (France) – AD 77
The first mermaid sighting that has stood the test of time was described by the naturalist Pliny the Elder in his encyclopedia “The Natural History”.
Pliny describes numerous sightings of mermaids off the coast and says that their scale-covered bodies had occasionally been found washed up on the beaches.
The mermaids were considered an important enough discovery that the Governor of Gaul even wrote a letter to the Roman Emperor Augustus.
No alternative explanation was provided, so it appears that mermaids were believed in at exceptionally high levels in the Roman empire.
However, later investigations of the events by 7th-century Swedish writer Olaus Magnus suggested that the Roman mermaids were actually seals.
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#2 Hispaniola, The Caribbean – 1493
While sailing off the coast of Hispaniola in the Caribbean, the explorer Christopher Columbus recorded in his diary that he had seen three mermaids rising from the sea.
However, unlike the mermaid spotted by other sailors, Columbus reported that his were not at all beautiful and had masculine features.
Most modern historians believe that what Christopher Columbus actually saw were manatees. These herbivorous marine mammals are also known as sea cows.
Manatees were not discovered by scientists until 1741. Still, they are now known to inhabit the Caribbean Sea’s shallow coastal areas and rivers.
#3 The Arctic Ocean – 1608
Henry Hudson was a British explorer known for traveling around the northeastern United States and Canada.
In 1608 Hudson made his second attempt at finding a Northeast passage to China from Europe, which he believed could exist through the Arctic Ocean.
On the 15th of June, members of Hudson’s crew on his ship Half Moon are said to have recorded sighting a mermaid in the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean.
However, it is considered that the event may have been fabricated by the author Philip Uncle in his book “The Adventures of Henry Hudson” to add excitement to the journeys.
#4 West Indies – Early 1700s
The English pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, recorded one of the most discussed mermaid stories in his logbook in the 1700s.
Blackbeard was generally regarded as a fearsome and dangerous man. However, historians believe that he was prone to bending the truth on several voyages to get his crew to follow his will while maintaining his legend.
Blackbeard ordered that his ships avoid charted waters in the West Indies because he claimed the seas were enchanted and filled with dangerous mermaids.
Pirates and sailors at the time believed that mermaids were evil and would steal their gold, so they willingly followed the instructions.
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However, it is thought that instead, Blackbeard simply made up a story because his adversaries controlled the particular seas. Rather than look weak by avoiding a fight, he fabricated a story.
#5 China – 1730
The historical Mandarin Chinese record “Jottings on the South of China,” published in 1730, mentions two encounters between fishermen and mermaids.
In the first tale, a man was said to have captured a mermaid in the ocean off Lantau Island. She was described as having a body covered in fine, multi-colored hair.
The pair are said to have married. They lived together until the man died, at which point the mermaid went back to the sea.
The second account details how a sailor spotted a woman lying on the beach as he watched from his anchored ship. He swam ashore only to discover that she had webbed feet and hands.
The man carried his mermaid back to the water, where she thanked him and swam away.
In both cases, it seems likely that the encounters were with sea mammals of some kind.
#6 Vancouver, Canada – 1870s/1880s
The Mermaid of Point Gray was sighted in the 1870s by three men fishing with their native guide.
They told local newspaper reporters that they had seen a woman with brown skin and long blonde hair rise up from the water close to their boat and stare at them.
The guide left his career on the water after the incident. Local legends said that seeing one was terrible luck and would lead to death if the spotter returned to the water.
#7 Pennsylvania, USA – 1881
A fisherman named Henry Loucks reported seeing a mermaid on five separate occasions in the Susquehanna River tributary known as Dugan’s Run.
The York Daily newspaper revealed the tale and commented that it was unusual for such fantastical sightings to be found in the river.
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Instead, they were usually reserved for the legends of the coast of Massachusetts. The paper went on to say that the Dugan’s Run mermaid was always seen early in the morning or late in the evening.
In addition, this particular mermaid had a woman’s head with jet black hair and always kept its body below its shoulders underneath the water.
Henry Loucks said that he thought of shooting the mermaid but didn’t want to be tried for murder.
Instead, he hoped to be able to capture the creature alive and would attempt to lure the creature from what he said was its cave home deep underneath the river.
#8 Kei Islands, Indonesia – 1943
One story of the orang ikan mermaid gained wider attention when Japanese soldiers were stationed on the island.
Villagers said they had seen the orang ikan or “man-fish” many times but that they were peaceful. However, the soldiers reported that they had been attacked by one while patrolling.
The orang ikan was said to have rushed from the water towards the soldiers. It jumped on top of a large rock and made loud, unfriendly “gurgling burping” noises.
This scared the soldiers significantly enough to draw their weapons and fire on the beast.
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The animal escaped unharmed, and subsequently, the platoon sergeant issued an order to the villagers that they should capture the mermaid dead or alive.
The village chief duly delivered a dead aquatic creature with a human face and limbs, spikes on its head, and a fish-like mouth.
Japanese scientists never investigated the specimen, so its true identity remains a mystery.
#9 Victoria, Canada – 1967
The mermaid of Active Pass was spotted sitting on rocks by passengers as they traveled aboard a ferry boat.
They said that the mermaid looked attractive with facial dimples and long blonde hair. She had a topless human upper body with that of a porpoise below.
She reportedly ate raw salmon, apparently utterly oblivious to the onlookers as waves splashed around her.
Local newspapers wildly offered a $25,000 reward for capturing the mermaid. However, she was never seen again.
Photographs that were allegedly taken at the time could not be traced.
#10 Kaiwi Point, Hawaii – 1998
Ten scuba divers claimed to see a mermaid swimming in the sea as they sailed off the coast of Kaui.
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The divers, led by local scuba operator Jeff Leicher, reported that a naked woman swam past the boat with a pod of dolphins. When she jumped from the water, they say that the “woman” had a fish’s tail.
Later, Leicher claimed that the mermaid had reappeared during their scuba dive. He was able to take photographs as she swam above them.
To this day, Leicher remains convinced that he saw an authentic mermaid. He says, “I feel very lucky that I’m the one to finally prove to the world what people here have known for half a century, the Kaiwi Point Mermaid is real.”
#11 Haifa Bay, Israel – 2009
One of the most modern mermaid myths came about when many people said they had seen a mermaid which looked like a young girl with a fishtail jumping in the waters of Haifa Bay.
The local town offered an incredible $1 million reward for anyone who could prove the mermaid actually existed. Unfortunately, no one has been able to claim the prize.
#12 Zimbabwe – 2012
Workers installing water pumps at two new reservoirs in Zimbabwe unexpectedly left the sites and refused to return after they said they had been chased by mermaids.
The authorities called in tribal chiefs to perform exorcism rituals. However, the workers would not restart work.
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Tales of mermaids have existed in Zimbabwe for hundreds of years and seeing one is considered bad luck.
The workers feared that the mermaids would capture them and drag them underwater, never to be seen again.
It is said that the dams still remain unfinished to the present day.
Where Do Mermaids Come From (Mythology/Folklore)
When considering if mermaids are real, it’s helpful to look at the origin of mermaid stories around the world. Stories about mermaids take many forms.
However, they have always fascinated people, no matter which of the many cultures they’re from.
#1 Greek Mythology
Some of the earliest mermaids come from Greek mythology. Creatures described as a woman with the lower body of a fish are mentioned in “Homer’s Odyssey.”
Mermaids can also be seen in Greek art as early as the 3rd century BC.
#2 The Middle East
Humans with the tails of fish are shown in Mesopotamian artwork from the 2nd century BC. Most are seen as mermen, although mermaids also exist.
Mermaid folklore started in ancient Assyria, around 1,000 BC. The Syrian goddess Derceto is often described as being a mermaid. However, many statues show her in a completely human form.
The “One Thousand and One Nights” story collection contains several tales of sea people. Unlike regular mermaids, these look like ordinary people, except they can breathe underwater.
#3 Great Britain
In British folklore, mermaids are said to predict stormy weather and lure sailors to danger.
One of the most well-known mermaid legends involves one visiting the Church of Saint Senara in the Cornish village of Zennor to hear the chorister Matthew Trewhella sing.
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The meeting and their subsequent marriage are celebrated in the famous 600-year-old mermaid’s chair, which can still be seen in the church.
#4 Western Europe
The German philosopher Paracelsus suggested that aquatic humanoids could become immortal if they married a land-dwelling human.
His 1566 book “Nymphs, Sylphs, Pygmies, and Salamanders, and on the Other Spirits” is often regarded as the basis of the more famous “The Little Mermaid.”
#5 Eastern Europe
Rusalkas are restless spirits of the dead in Slavic folk stories. Often they are the ghosts of young women who were murdered or committed suicide by drowning.
The Rusalka mermaids are seen in rivers and lakes and appear to try and lure men to their deaths.
Japanese folklore is filled with many stories of beautiful creatures of the sea.
Known as ningyo, or human-fish, the Japanese mermaids differ from other traditions. Only the head of the ningyo is from a female human being. The rest of the entire body is that of a fish.
Mami wata are African water spirits that are usually female. Mami wata are said to lure men to their deaths in the sea and are blamed for bad weather.
In East Africa, the Lagoons of Seychelles Mermaid has been legendary through various tales of mysterious encounters for hundreds of years.
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It is generally accepted that most of the stories involved sightings of Dugongs which used to be endemic to the islands.
Is a Siren a Mermaid?
Sirens and mermaids are not the same. While they are both half-sea creature, half-human, sirens are traditionally cast as being evil.
Many tales of siren sightings remark that they are fierce-looking. The siren song is used to lure human beings to their death by dragging them underwater or causing their ships to crash on rocks.
A real siren mermaid is not a beautiful sea creature with a tail that saves sailors.
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4 Other Facts About Mermaids, the Half-Human Mythical Creature
#1 P.T Barnum Exhibited a Famous Fake Mermaid
The Feejee Mermaid displayed in the 1840s was a dried monkey attached to the tail of a fish.
#2 Mermaid Shows Were Once Very Popular
Women dressed as mermaids performed in water tanks at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
The Florida city of Weeki Wachee Springs attracted nearly one million visitors a year in the 1960s to see its professional female mermaid show.
#3 The Starbucks Coffee Logo Is a Type of Mermaid
The Starbucks company uses the Melusine water spirit as its logo.
#4 You Can Be a Mermaid
Mermaid costumes and a monofin fish tail allow you to swim like real mermaids. Freediving training agencies now teach mermaid courses if you love mermaids.
While they exist in folklore and historical accounts around the world, the scientific community is unanimous that the answer to “are mermaids real?” is no.
What is your favorite mermaid tale? Do you believe that mermaids are real? Let us know in the comments!
British-born Dan has been a scuba instructor and guide in Egypt's Red Sea since 2010.
Dan loves inspiring safe, fun, and environmentally responsible diving and particularly enjoys the opportunity to dive with sharks or investigate local shipwrecks.
When not spending time underwater, Dan can usually be found biking and hiking in Sharm's desert surroundings.