Manatees, Dugongs, and MERMAIDS, oh my!

Mermaids.They have been a fantasy for young children and a popular addition to Disney movies for years. Where did this idea come from and do people believe in them for real?

There are actually many origins of mermaid mythology, and the ones we are more familiar with include beautiful, kind-hearted mermaid princesses who roam the sea. However, not all the stories went this way.

Some early legends or myths started in Syria about the goddess Atargatis and her transformation into half fish, half human. Also, the Syrian and Greek mythology combined a bit with Aphrodite and the mythology of Pisces.

Later on, the Odyssey gave a more negative light on mermaids as they were considered “sirens” who tricked men, particularly sailors, into following them into the water and then drowning them. This kind of mermaid is seen in the popular movie series “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Along with the mythology, there are other forms of mermaids that have arose throughout time. For instance, Christopher Columbus saw what he thought were mermaids, when in reality, he had seen manatees and dugongs. (But, who knows?! Maybe mermaids, too!) Many think that their graceful way of swimming made him think this way.

Manatees and Dugongs are both a part of the order “Sirenia” (sirens!). Dugongs and Manatees are very similar yet they have some distinct differences. First, where they are found. Manatees are found in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico (especially the Crystal River area in Florida), Amazon, and West Africa. Dugongs are found in Egypt and Australia. A main difference, they have different tails. Dugongs have dolphin-like tails that resemble a mermaid, while manatees have a paddle-shaped tail. Also, there are slight differences in their nostrils, mouths, and teeth.

Exciting news is that the West Indian Manatee was just recently removed from the endangered species list. According to the CNN news report, there has been a 500% increase in the population in Florida.

I recently traveled to Crystal River, Florida and kayaked and snorkeled with these amazing manatees. There were tons and tons of them– we were fortunate to find and swim with many of them at a safe distance. Despite the seemingly large numbers, though, the guide did make a point of how they used to be much more prominent in the area than they are now.

One huge problem are boats. Boats that don’t abide by speed limits can run over these creatures, creating huge scars and damage to their skin. Watercraft collisions, habitat loss from urbanization and temperature changes, human disturbance, and harmful algal blooms are all big threats to manatees.

Limiting our urbanization near manatee habitats, lowering our carbon footprints, and carefully preserving the areas by driving boats at a reasonable speed can help these animals continuously rise back to health and sustainability.

Best Fishes, 

Aqua Ally

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.
— Henry Beston