Posted by: Loren Coleman on June 21st, 2009
More on Merbeings by Xtrox
One of the interesting parts about this research (see earlier posting here) was to realize, once I started to read the reports, that if you pay attention some “trends” seem to appear. The sightings can be roughly grouped in 5 broad categories (I’m not including beings like the Thetis Lake Monster). The first 3 concern human-like entities from the navel up, with some sort of tail and no posterior limbs, such as:
- Classic mermaids and mermen with scaled fish-tails (see John M’Isaac report, 1811, Benbecula Merchild report, 1833, others.).
- Merbeings with long fish-tails, exhibiting some serpentine or eel-like qualities —it is hinted that the ones able to stand upright on their tails probably belong to this category; they are eerily reminiscent of nagas—. Some accounts also mention seaweed or ribbon-like substances sprouting of their heads (see Reynolds report, 1782; de Bischopp report, 1957, Australian Yawkyawk legend??).
- Scaless mermen and mermaids often depicted with dolphin or porpoise-like tails (Henry Hudson report, 1608, mene mamma, Portgordon Report, 1814, Morotai mermaids).
These humanoid varieties come in assorted colors; most often they are described as white skinned with black, blond, brown, red or even green hair. However, they can also have tawny, brown, gray or green skin, and even bluish tails. Their faces can be perfectly human with beautiful or rather coarse traits, but they can also sport some not-quite-human features. For instance, the merman allegedly spotted in 1782 by Henry Reynolds had a nose that “ran up between the eyes” (this case is now being explained as a bearded or hooded seal sighting).
Most merbeings appear to have normal looking arms with five fingered hands. However, there are also many anomalies listed, such as arms too short or too long for their bodies, four or six fingered hands, webbed hands, and even long fingernails or talons (see Robert Froster report, Lake Matamba dark-skinned mermaids).
Needless to say, humanoid merbeings don’t speak, don’t carry combs or mirrors and don’t grant any wishes. However, they can produce cry-like sounds. In one case, even a “melody” was reported (Bocca di Magra, 1962). They also seem to prefer to come ashore at night.
Reading the reports, over and over you stumble with people claiming that merbeings look quite aggressive. Things like “unsettling” gaze (Faroe Islands report, 1723), “both frightened and angry” (Alexander Gunn report, 1900), “wild and fierce” (Reynolds report, 1782) are very frequently mentioned. This seems to be a defensive stance, though. The typical encounter with a merbeing occurs when the human accidently surprises him or her, not the other way around. If the human is an adult, the merbeing often will react staring at him angrily —looking quite intimidating— and then making a hasty retreat. However, if the human is a child, the creature might assume a more relaxed stance.
This has not always been the case. There are many old accounts of mermaids and mermen displaying curiosity regarding humans. Unfortunately, those attempts were always met with aggression from our part. When a mermaid surfaced near Bayonne in 1610, men grabbed long poles to repulse her, and she uttered a cry before diving back under the water. That same year another mermaid approached some men standing at the harbour-side of St. John’s in Newfoundland. The creature was described by a Captain Withbourne as “a beautiful woman, looking cheerful and well proportioned, with hair down to the neck” that from “the middle down” was shaped like a “broad, hooked arrow”. However, when the mermaid tried to reach a small boat, a man struck her with an oar, making her fall back. Some years later, in 1674, a merman tried to do the same thing in New England, but when he placed his hands on the side of the small boat, was so hardly struck that one of his hands was severed. That same century, in 1688, two Scottish fishermen supposedly drew up with a hook a mermaid that had the face, arms, breasts and shoulders of a woman, and long hair hanging down the neck. Their reaction? One of the fishermen stabbed her with a knife, and she was seen no more.
The tendency continued well into the 19th century. A man with a rifle almost shot a merbeing spotted in the West coast of Scotland in 1814, but the others witnesses managed to dissuade him. Neither the small mermaid reported from Benbecula in 1830, nor the white-skinned one seen off the coast Orkney, at Deerness, were so lucky. The former was killed by a teenager boy who threw a stone at her; the later was shot.
The last 2 categories of merbeings:
- Assorted merbeings with fish-tails and four limbs (Exeter merman, 1737; Runan Shah?).
- Assorted animalistic creatures with arms and fish-like tails, but with monkey, fish or seal-like faces (Yell mermaid, Exmouth Mermaid). These ones are too many to describe.
Here’s the Exmouth account.
In 1812, Mr. Toupin, of Exmouth, published the following account of his having seen a Mermaid: “The day (August 11),” says he, ” being very fine, I joined a party of ladies and gentlemen in a sailing excursion. When we had got about a mile to the southeast of Exmouth-bar, our attention was suddenly arrested by a very singular noise, by no means unpleasant to the ear, but of which it is impossible to give a correct idea by mere description. It was not, however, unaptly compared by one of our ladies to the wild melodies of the AEolian harp, combined with a noise similar to that made by a stream of water falling gently on the leaves of a tree. In the mean time we observed something about one hundred yards from us, to windward. We all imagined it to be some human being, though at the same time we were at a loss to account for this, at such a distance from the shore, and no other boat near. We hailed, but received no reply, and we made toward this creature as soon as possible; when, to the great astonishment of us all, it eluded our pursuit by plunging under water. In a few minutes it rose again, nearly in the same place; and by that time we had got sufficiently near for one of the boatmen to throw into the water a piece of boiled fish, which he had in his locker. This seemed to alarm the animal, though it soon recovered from its fears, for we presently observed it to lay hold of the fish, which it ate with apparent relish. Several other pieces were thrown out, by which the creature was induced to keep at a short distance from our boat, and afforded us the opportunity of observing it with attention, and found, to our astonishment, that it was no other than a Mermaid. As the sea was calm, and in a great degree transparent, every part of the animal’s body became in turn visible. The head, from the crown to the chin, forms rather a long- oval, and the face seems to resemble that of the seal, though, at the same time, it is far more agreeable, possessing a peculiar softness, which renders the whole set of features very interesting. The upper and back part of the head appeared to be furnished with something like hair, and the forepart of the body with something like down, between a very light fawn and a very pale pink colour, which, at a distance, had the appearance of flesh, and may have given rise to the idea that the body of the Mermaid is, externally, like that of the human being. This creature has two arms, each of which terminates into a hand with four fingers, connected to each other by means of a very thin elastic membrane. The animal used its arms with great agility, and its motions in general were very graceful. From the waist it gradually tapered so as to form a tail, which had the appearance of being covered with strong broad polished scales, which occasionally reflected the rays of the sun in a very beautiful manner; and, from the back and upper part of the neck, down to the loins, the body also appeared covered with short round broad feathers, of the colour of the down on the fore-part of the body. The whole length of the animal, from the crown of the head to the extremity of the tail, was supposed to be about five feet, or five feet and a half. In about ten minutes, from the time we approached, the animal gave two or three plunges, in quick succession, as if it were at play. After this, it gave a sudden spring, and swam away from us very rapidly, and in a few seconds we lost sight of it.”
What all of this means?
Let’s face it, not only there’s not a shred of evidence regarding the existence of humanoid merbeings, but as mystery_man pointed out, they are impossible creatures. The mystery, then, is not whether they exist or not, but why we keep getting these reports.
I think the answer might be a very complex one, involving not only the misidentification of known animals, but also psychological issues and —who knows— maybe even a cryptid or two. Unfortunately, it is not likely that those cryptids will look like Daryl Hannah .
++++(In lieu of a footnote, here’s a flipper note)
Supposedly, a fisherman called Colmaro Orsini was fishing when he heard a melody coming from the sea. He claimed that he briefly saw the head of a woman with green hair raise from the waters. He also spotted a fish tail.
The art used in conjunction with that particular number (shown at the top) became a popular print that can be purchased online.
If you like mermaid art, you can also check David Delamare’s paintings (two examples of which are shown directly above).