Captain's Cabin

Pirate Lord of the Platinum Coast
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Monday, November 17, 2008

Myth Monday - Mermaids and Manatees

Little Danielle is one of my little tail grabbing friends. Her mother day hunts with my bean. She is four years old and had open heart surgery as an infant. She will have to have surgery again, sometime in the future as she grows and her heart grows with her to correct a congenial birth defect.

Lately she has been very sick with a disease to her heart and has just gotten out of the hospital. She is supposed to do some colorings for me to post on my blog soon. (I have not had coloring from tail grabbers in fur-ever! I was beginning to think they did not love me anymore.)

However, in the meantime, she likes mermaids and my bean as been doing some mermaid pictures for her to hang in her room.

This got me interested in these creatures so today I want to talk to you about Mermaids and Manatees, two topics that we, as cats, usually don't think too much about.


A mermaid is a mythological aquatic creature that is half human, half aquatic creature (e.g. a fish or dolphin). Various cultures throughout the world have similar figures. The word is a compound of mere, the Old English word for "sea," and maid, which has retained its original sense. Mermaids appear to have the torso of a fish and the body of a woman.

Much like sirens, mermaids would sometimes sing to sailors and enchant them, distracting them from their work and causing them to walk off the deck or run their ships aground. Other stories have them squeezing the life out of drowning men while attempting to rescue them. They are also said to take humans down to their underwater kingdoms. In Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid it is said that they forget that humans cannot breathe underwater, while others say they drown men out of spite.

The sirens of Greek mythology are sometimes portrayed in later folklore as mermaid-like; in fact, some languages use the same word for both bird and fish creatures, such as the Maltese word 'sirena'. Other related types of mythical or legendary creature are water fairies (e.g. various water nymphs) and selkies, animals that can transform themselves from seals to humans.

Tales of mermaids are nearly universal. The first known mermaid stories appeared in Assyria, ca. 1000 BC. Atargatis, the mother of Assyrian queen Semiramis, was a goddess who loved a mortal shepherd and in the process killed him. Ashamed, she jumped into a lake to take the form of a fish, but the waters would not conceal her divine beauty. Thereafter, she took the form of a mermaid — human above the waist, fish below — though the earliest representations of Atargatis showed her as being a fish with a human head and legs, similar to the Babylonian Ea. The Greeks recognized Atargatis under the name Derketo.

That story actually predates the one that Manatee conservationists everywhere love to tell. They hold that Manatee were in fact responsible for the legend of humans seeing creatures in the water with the body of a fish and the head and torsos of a woman.

The Arabian Nights (One Thousand and One Nights) includes several tales featuring "Sea People", such as Djullanar the Sea-girl. Unlike the depiction in other mythologies, these are anatomically identical to land-bound humans, differing only in their ability to breathe and live underwater. They can (and do) interbreed with land humans, the children of such unions are in the ability to live underwater. This too predates human explorations into America, so Manatees could not be the answer to the old myth.

Oh...what is a Manatee? It is a slow moving, herbivorous, aquatic mammal that lives in the warm Gulf Coast waters and rivers along the Florida Coast. They are part of the order of Sirenia, which also includes the Dugong. Prior to the mid 19th century, mariners refereed to these animals as mermaids, but they are clearly not the source of the legend. Dugongs were used during the Renaissance and Baroque eras to perpetrate mermaid hoaxes in various "exhibits of wonders". Dugongs used to range the waters of at least 37 different countries in the Indo-Pacific, but they are now largely confined to the northern waters of Australia between Shark Bay and Moreton Bay. It is a strictly-marine creature; Manatees utilize fresh water.

We have many Manatees that live in the Caloosahatchee River near my home. (Although "many" is used loosely as they are a very endangered animal.) Hopefully, when little Danielle gets older, she will be able to go on a manatee watching trip and see these real live Mermaids for herself.

A third species of Sirenia, the Steller's Sea Cow as hunted to extinction in the 18th century.

It is possible that either Dugongs or Sea Cows were the inspiration for the legends of the Greeks and Romans, as they did range along the the African coast at one time and while the Greeks or Romans never made it as far as American, they may have explored far enough to have seen either Dugongs or the now extinct Seacows. If that is the case, well...I'd have to say that those were some pretty homely looking mermaids they saw. (Not that humans are as beautiful or graceful as felines in the first place.)

Even though I live close to these Manatees, I would not hunt them as they are much, much bigger than I am, and probably would not taste as good as real live dead shrimps, or whitefish, or other sort of fishes that we get from the oceans and rivers.

In fact, Manatees are not hunted at all. The problem they face comes from recreational boaters along the rivers and coastal waters. Because they are slow moving, they can be harmed in collisions with boats or cut by boat propellers. Sadly, many of the boaters would rather see these interesting animals go the way of the Seacows, so that they do not have to obey no wake rules that are were put in place to protect the Manatees.

If you would like to learn more about Manatees, please visit the Save the Manatee Club on the internet.

To find out more about Mermaids, visit the Sea Magick Network, the ultimate Mermaid site on the internet.

(Note: a place in Florida called Weeki Wachee Springs bills itself as "the only city of live mermaids". They do not have real live mermaids however, only humans dressed as mermaids. Does this qualify as a mermaid hoax?)

Anyway, I hope you have learned something today about Mermaids and Manatees. While you are purring for our sick furriends, please put in a few purrs for Little Danielle as well, as I'm sure she'd appreciate them.


Eduardo said...

Mermaids are so pretty but by far manatees are my favorite! My Mommy loves cows & she loves manatees just as much(sea-cows!) You are very talented with pictures, do you use photoshop are something else?
Hugs & Snugs
Eduardo the Snuggle Puggle

Daisy said...

We love manatees, too!

I hope little Danielle will be all better soon.

Khyra The Siberian Husky said...

What a khool post!

If I khould kholour, I'd do one fur woo - but the lakhk of the thumbie things makes it hard to hold a khrayon!


Sara, Bebe and Iago said...

We always learn so furry much at your bloggie!

Evie/VampyVictor said...

HHHAH HA Nows Iknows where I seen that face before.. Dugongs.. well not in real life but you know hehe
that was a very interesting take, who would have thought to associate the two :)
I am adding little Danielle to my GPS of puurss.. she needs lots and lots ! :))

PB 'n J said...

We're sorry to hear about your little tail-grabbing friend, we sure hope that she recovers soon.

Manatees are really neat, as are mermaids - thanks for helping us learn more about them both!

PB 'n J said...

We were hoping to use that lovely picture of Pearl from your T13 last week - we'd like to feature it on the Week of Pearl. Would that be ok?

Sweet Praline said...

Thanks for sharing and I hope that little Danielle is better soon!