Posted by: Loren Coleman on February 16th, 2009
There is a current incident being reported by media in the Philippines today that is confusing, once again, mermaids with sea cows.
An earlier beaching. This nine feet (three meters) long female dugong [Sea cow, "Ikan duyung" (Malay), Dugong dugon] carcass was washed ashore on Pulau Tekong’s southern shore on Tuesday, 6th June 2006. Photo credit: Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science, National University of Singapore.
The Visayan Daily Star, published in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, Philippines, for February 16, 2009, has declared a recent find of a “mermaid” a hoax. Here is reporter Judy F. Partlow’s report.
Reports that a mermaid had been found in San Jose, Negros Oriental turned out to be false but this did not stop people from flocking to the marine laboratory of Silliman University hoping to get a glimpse of the mythical creature.
Over the past three days, hordes of men, women and children in Dumaguete and nearby areas flocked to the marine laboratory, now called the Silliman University Institute of Environmental and Marine Sciences, after reports of the mermaid became widespread.
The news, which broke on Wednesday [February 11, 2009] allegedly through at least two radio stations here, and through text messaging, attracted scores of people to visit the facility, paying the minimum entrance fee of P10 per person, despite being told by the security guards there was no mermaid to see.
SU-IEMS director and internationally respected marine scientist Dr. Hilconida Calumpong scoffed at the reports, saying these were “irresponsible”.
Calumpong said that where marine scientists are concerned, there are two kinds of mermaids: the mythological half human and half aquatic creature as popularized in fairy tales and movies, like “Ariel, the Little Mermaid”, and the endangered “dugong (sea cow)”, which many fishermen always mistake for a mermaid.
Mythical mermaids appear to have the torso of a woman and the tail of a fish, while the mermen are portrayed as ugly compared to their female counterparts, but with healing powers. Sometimes they carry a trident.
In Greek mythology, mermaids are said to enchant people with their lovely voices and distract men from their work on ships, causing them to drown.
Mermaids and mermen also proliferate in Philippine folklore, where they are known as “sirena” and “syokoy”.
The romantic appeal of these half human-half aquatic creatures is just too much to resist so, understandably, people could not wait for their chance to see a mermaid in real life, Calumpong said.
News of the discovery of the mermaid was immediately connected to the Feb. 7 disaster wrought by heavy rainfall and massive flooding as a result of a low pressure area in the Central Visayas.
Calumpong admitted that she got excited when she first heard the news, saying what first came to her mind was that a dugong had been stranded off the coast of Negros Oriental.
But, nobody contacted them regarding the discovery of the “mermaid” or stranding of an unusually large fish.
She said she was surprised to see so many people coming to the SU-IEMS facility, whose earnings from entrance fees were hiked up in just two to three days.
The dugong (spp. Dugong dugon) is a marine mammal listed under the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources as a species vulnerable to extinction.
In recent years, conservation efforts were launched in the north of Negros Island after reported sightings of dugong in Sagay, Manapla, Cadiz and other municipalities, said Dr. Calumpong.
Calumpong said fishermen who come across dugongs usually refer to them as “mermaids”, especially when seen with their suckling calves.
She appealed to the public to cooperate with authorities in reporting marine mammal strandings, and to the local media to practice “responsible journalism”.*JFP ‘Mermaid’ found in Neg. Or. a hoax by Judy F. Partlow
Was this pictured incident related to the February beaching? Volunteers gently push the adult sea cow measuring 2.6 metres and weighing an estimated 175kg, to deeper water. It was released by WWF officials the following day on January 2, 2009. Photo: WWF Philippines/Mavic Matillano