It looks real, but the U.S. Government says they’re not. The faux-documentary Mermaids: The Body Found, woven around some strange findings, and undeniable commonalities of myth between disparate cultures over millennia, has generated an official statement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found,” NOAA said in a statement in early July. “Why, then, do they occupy the collective unconscious of nearly all seafaring peoples? That’s a question best left to historians, philosophers, and anthropologists.”
A few scientists of that ilk dove deep into the subject recently for the Discovery Channel, which aired the two-hour special in May and then again on July 16–17. The broadcasts apparently prompted a few inquiries to NOAA, which responded with the statement.
Culling footage of beached whales, the show spends much of its time talking about a particular type of sonar testing supposedly conducted by the U.S. Navy: sonar so powerful that it slams into whales and other creatures like a blunt instrument, killing them. And among the whale sounds and the carcasses have cropped up another sound, one so complex that the folks interviewed in this piece call it language.
The evidence for a new species is circumstantial at best, and their most telling witness is a supposed member of the Navy who, voice disguised and face darkened, claims that the government kept a mysterious aquatic creature alive for three years, in captivity.
The show uses as a jumping-off point some supposed video (from a 2004 camera phone, no less) of whale remains and those of one undefined animal, combined with some fish tales, to create underwater Avatar-like scenarios of frolicking, hunting and noble beings.
It is a fascinating notion, however, and most compelling is the surfeit of mermaid myths that have abounded from sea explorers over thousands of years and across many cultures. According to Mermaids, fishermen have told tales of finding spears already embedded in their catches—freshly killed, though far out in the ocean—and other anomalies that suggest the existence of an as yet undiscovered species. Ancient Chinese explorers, as well as those of Europe, Scandinavia and even Russia, tell tales of sightings while at sea.
The things were even reportedly sighted by our old friend Christopher Columbus as he made his way to the so-called New World, and first contact. Although as Huffington Post notes, those sightings may very well have been of manatees.
"Scurvy + many days away from your lady = a blubbery creature looking supple and bodacious," wrote Varla Ventura, who is working on a book about mermaids due out in 2013.
Even the show’s site on the Discovery Channel bears a disclaimer.
“This two-hour special is science fiction based on some real events and scientific theory,” the website says.
However, if these marine primates did exist, could we blame them for hiding? One of the former NOAA researchers interviewed for the show, Paul Robertson, says that some scientists believe that Neanderthals were supplanted by, and possibly even exterminated by, homo sapiens. And we all know what happened to the Indigenous Peoples of our lands.
“What we did on land to one of our own, we’d do in the sea,” Robertson says.