|Beautiful image created by Esther Kirby (flickr link)|
Or, is that dolphins?
Either way, manatees are sea creatures, so it leaves them open to being mistaken for other sea creatures. Mermaids, for instance.
I don't know if you've heard this, but it's often cited that old sailor's tales of mermaids were actually based on sightings of manatees. This story has a wonderfully absurd feel to it. How, after all, did they mistake these bulky, slow, not-getting-a-date-for-prom sea mammals for halfway beautiful heart breakers of the sea? It's a common stereotype that sailors get notoriously horny when between ports, so how much pent up lust does it take for a man to mistake a sea-cow for a possibly-consenting fish-like partner?
I guess my real question is, who figured this out? After a sailor came to port with tales of pruny-fingered women of the deep, who fact-checked him? The subject of his story is still in the far reaches of the ocean. Was there a weak-armed bubble-burster on board who re-identified the creature, and then, when the boat landed, told everyone about how he had out-smarted the other sailors?
Let me tell you what I think, because you knew I would. I don't think anybody that hasn't eaten a good ounce of magic mushrooms is going to see a mermaid when looking at a sea-cow. It has zero of the markers that would indicate a mermaid. The front half doesn't look like a woman, the back half doesn't look like a fish, and it's slow, casual movements will never remind anyone of anything but a sea-cow.
I honestly don't know where the belief that mermaids were actually manatees came from, and if someone came up with it in a quick spurt of whack-a-mole debunking, I have to wonder why the individual chose, of all of the creatures in the sea, the manatee as a mermaid stand-in. But his conclusion apparently can't be that absurd, because people love quoting it to each other, never considering that it's likely not true.
I mean, maybe, if you're feeling sarcastic, a submerged manatee looks a little like a beautiful woman. Maybe a PT Cruiser looks like a bigfoot. And, in a hundred years, when that sentence has bled out of this blog, and into the society, people will be looking back, thinking about how silly it was that we mistook the strange-looking car for the missing link, and not considering that it probably never happened.
On a related note, read a curious story from 2009 about mermaid sightings off the coast of Israel. I don't believe that the creature sighted is a mermaid (though wouldn't that be exciting?) but I believe just as strongly that it was not a manatee. More on this story later, when it's even further out of date.
Thanks for reading.