Real Mermaid Timeline

There's actually no such thing as a real mermaid but mermaids have been sited numerous times over the centuries. To me, the question is what lies behind the fantasy. Nothing like our modern scientists existed for most of human history, there were no trained observers to carefully describe what they saw. No cameras or camcorders. We are separated from their experience by a wall of words. What did they mean when they said "mermaid"? Did they mean the woman/fish hybrid I associate with the word? Was the term used loosely for just about any vaguely human-looking sea creature like the manatee? Could they have simply meant a woman or girl they saw in the water?

Click here for some theories about these real mermaid sightings.

Click here for the history of the mythological mermaid.

Click here for a list of stories where people turned into mermaids.

Hungry for the bare facts, check out the Mermaid Facts page.

Are mermaids real? Click here for the surprising truth.

First Century AD, Pliny the Elder writes about Nereids – women with rough scaly bodies like fish, a mythological precursor to mermaids.

Fifth Century AD, Physiologus in his Bestiary describes the real mermaid with the upper body of a woman and the lower of a fish, split at about the navel. The book is a study of animals and their natures and remains influential until the 18th century.

13th Century, Bartholomew Angelicus in his book De Propietatibus Rerum described the mermaid as a femme fatale stealing sailors from their ships. Click here for more on the medieval mermaid.

1493, January 4, Christopher Columbus reports seeing three mermaids playing about and jumping out of the water. He says, "They were not as beautiful as they are painted, although to some extent they have a human appearance in the face...."

1560, Bosquez, aide to the Viceroy of Goa, performed autopsies on 7 mermaids caught by fishermen in Ceylon.

1599, in the book Historia Monstrorum a mermaid and her mate are reported embracing near the Nile River delta.

1608, June 15, Henry Hudson, explorer and discoverer of the Hudson River, records seeing a mermaid near Russia. He wrote in his log: Two crew members - Thomas Hilles and Robert Rayner - sighted a mermaid at 75° 7' N, and shouted at the rest of the crew to come and look. Hudson further recorded it as having a "tail of a porpoise and speckled like a mackerel." She was "looking earnestly on the men" who gathered on the side to see her. The description Hudson wrote says she was "speckled like a macrell" (mackerel) with long black hair, white skin and a woman's breasts.

1614, John Smith sees a real mermaid off the coast of Massachusetts

1718, a "sea wife" is caught off the island of Borneo and put in a large vat, where it died after a few days. It was heard to utter cries like a mouse.

1739, sailors of the ship Halifax caught and ate several mermaids in the East Indies. Said they tasted like veal.

1811, a farmer near Kintyre reported spotting a real mermaid washing herself and combing her hair.

1830, a farm woman in the Outer Hebrides spotted a mermaid frolicking in the water. They were unable to capture her alive but did manage to kill her with a rock. The corpse was seen and described in detail by Alexander Carmichael, a well-known scholar.

1842, Phineas T. Barnum displays the famous Feejee Mermaid at his American Museum on Broadway in New York City. Click here for more details.

1857, June 4, a reliable (?) report of a real mermaid with "full breast, dark complexion and comely face" seen off the coast of Britain.

1946, Weeki Wachee, the City of Live Mermaids is started by ex-navy man Newton Perry. Perry, who trained SEALS in the navy, taught pretty girls to breathe from air hoses underwater and put on shows. Using an air hose instead of a tank strapped to the back makes a girl look more like a real mermaid. The result was one of Florida's first and most famous attractions. Severely hurt by Disney World and other major theme parks in the 1970s, Weeki Wachee is now enjoying a renaissance of interest. They are probably only one or two lucky breaks away from regaining the title of major attraction. For more see their website at Weeki Wachee.

1947, Island of Muck, 80-year-old man reports seeing a real mermaid sitting on a lobster trap and combing her hair.

1951, Aquarena Springs opens, a resort and amusement park built near the San Marcos Springs in San Marcos, Texas. The Springs featured underwater mermaid ballets and Ralph, the Famous Swimming Pig. Incredibly, Ralph was the most popular attraction up till his retirement in 1991.

1971, Starbucks, with it's mermaid logo, opens it's first store in Seattle's Pike Place Market.

1994, Aqarena Springs bought by Texas State University. Big changes are soon to follow.

1996, Aquarena Springs is closed. Unhappy with the commercialization of what they saw as a great natural wonder, the Texas State University closed the resort and amusement park. The University converted the Springs into the Aquarena Center. The Center offers environmental tours and scientific dive training. The Aquarena Center and San Marcos River are home to many endangered species but not a single real mermaid.

2004, wild internet reports of a real mermaid corpse seen in Chennai, India, after the famous Christmas tsunami. Photographs were included, but research shows that the pictures had been circulating for some time before the tsunami.

2005, Milagros Cerron operated on for mermaid syndrome.

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