With eyes cast toward the mystic depths of the ocean, mankind imbued the creatures that have emerged from this unknown palace with a majesty befitting their wonder. One such story that has repeatedly rolled off the tongue of sailors and storytellers alike has been that of the mermaid, beauty of the sea and temptress of the waters. In the same way that the Greeks weaved intricate stories of Gods making mischief in the mortal world, so too have sailors gossiped of these false beauties, mysterious and enchanting from afar but only masks of the true danger lurking below. The great unknown of the waters below fed fuel to these tall tales, and it only takes a clear view past the murky waters to debase these fishy tales.
Before debunking the existence of these magnificent creatures though, I would first like to explain what a mermaid is. A mermaid is an amphibious creature that is, in the simplest terms, half human and half fish. They have been around for nearly five thousand years and have been a part of various cultures and myths. One of the first mentions of the term merman was in Mesopotamia: Oannes, the mythical being who had the form of a fish but the feet of a man, was an aquatic creature who thought mankind wisdom. Other than those of the Babylonian culture, there have been mentions of mermaids in Russian , African, Arabian, Indian, Ancient Greek, British and Persian cultures. Usually depicted in the movies and fairy tales as beautiful and flawless; the mermaid, contrary to what is illustrated, has always been viewed by sailors (especially British sailors) as vicious and deadly because they consider mermaids to be bad omen that indicate a forthcoming thunderstorm. Another very common story told amongst Arabian sailors is that the mermaids have hypnotic effects. It is believed by them that mermaids use their irresistibly beautiful voices to lure the sailors into their traps and feed on the sailors flesh.
But even though the idea of an underwater beauty luring unsuspecting sailors to a watery grave may seem strangely alluring, one should look deeply to find the true cause for these outlandish stories, and even deeper to figure out if the modern-day claims are scientific or not. Before diving in to the disproving procedure, one must first analyze the data; the most crucial step to detecting whether the claims made about something are correct or, as Carl Sagan would call it, baloney. So what kind of data do we have to be able to prove the existence (or non-existence) of mermaids?
“One general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die.” (Charles Darwin 1859) Let’s take a trip back to 1859, when Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Even to our day, his ideas remain controversial; but still, very well supported. His natural selection theory is one of the best corroborated theories in the history of science. One should consider this theory before claiming the existence of a creature. So that is what we will do, we will see if mermaids fit in with the theory of natural selection or not. Natural selection is a process by which organism can change as a result of normal behavioral or heritable traits to allow the organism to adapt to its environment in order to survive. People tend to lean towards the idea that people come from sea, mermaids live in the sea, ergo it is possible that there are mermaids; however just by thinking about this basic definition of natural selection, it is easy to comprehend why it is irrational that mermaids ever existed or still exist. First of all, there would have had to be a reason for humanoids to develop the ‘half fish’ form in order to survive. And even if they once have developed this kind of a form, it wouldn’t have lasted because it isn’t practical enough for survival. The tails would have had to be extremely strong for the facile movement of the mermaids and they would have had to had gills. Since the ‘mermaid’ we know of doesn’t possess any of these characteristics, it is likely to assume that they haven’t made it through natural selection or have never even existed because based on the natural selection theory, the dominant species survive, since the humans survived, obviously, it is illogical to think that mermaids exist.
Probably one of the first ‘scientific’ reports on mermaids was that of the Animal Planet in 2012. That documentary was filmed by ‘scientists’ using a phone camera. Despite the cheap footage, people actually believed that what they were watching was actual proof that mermaids exist. This is how vulnerable we are to believing every non-scientific claim we hear. These kind of people are the ones whom Shermer would make fun of. Firstly because they directly believed the first thing they saw on television without even having the slightest skepticism about whether the claims being made were scientific or non-scientific. They didn’t question the reliability of the source but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t. Let’s briefly go over the claims being made and start debunking the existence of mermaids.
The first thing that every skeptic should do is to check the reliability of the source of the claims being made. Take the example of the Animal Planet; the TV channel might be considered to be partially reliable but the paid actors they used to act like scientists are absolutely non-reliable. Hence the most recent ‘scientific discovery’ of mermaids turned out to be a hoax. Another way to prove that these claims are non-scientific is by asking whether the claimants personal beliefs and biases drive the conclusion, or vice versa. The fact that most of the children born in the 1980s grew up with the Little Mermaid is an explanation to why people are so inclined to believe that mermaids exist. So probably most of the modern claims made on mermaids are biased. Also, as I have stated and explained previously, the idea that mermaids exist doesn’t fit in with what we know about the world or science. The existence of these half-human, half-fish like creatures is irrational and inconvenient. Only with the simplest three questions we are able to seriously debunk the claims being made on the existence of mermaids.
So, it is obvious that we do not know anything about mermaids -yet. But as we know, unexplained does not mean inexplicable. Also, considering that we have only explored 5% of the ocean shows us that we have many mysteries yet to solve. As far as I’m concerned, all the claims being made by pseudoscientists on mermaids are a hoax, but this does not mean that there aren’t creatures that we are yet to encounter in the depths of the unknown.
-Ceylin Donat (Konuk Yazar)