I wrote this essay for ENGL 408W, Writing for Secondary Teachers. I was excited to write this piece because I have always been fascinated with mermaids.
Mermaids – The Humans of the Sea
The word mermaid literally means maid of the sea. “Mermaid” comes from the words mere “sea, lake” and maid “a young unmarried woman.” A mermaid is a legendary aquatic creature with the upper body of a female human and the tail of a fish. Mermaids were first introduced in stories from Assyria, in which a goddess transformed herself into a mermaid out of shame for accidentally killing her human lover. Mermaids are commonly related to the mythological Greek sirens as well as the aquatic mammal, the manatee. Mermaids are usually associated with events such as floods, storms, shipwrecks, and drownings. It is said that mermaids enchanting voices would lure soon-to-be-shipwrecked sailors to nearby rocks and sandbars. Many folktales include mermaids and they can be described as benevolent or beneficent, bestowing boons or falling in love with humans, as we see in Walt Disney’s The Little Mermaid. However, there are many myths surrounding mermaids, the most prominent being if they do in fact exist.
The Aquatic Ape Theory is a conventional theory on human evolution which states that some time in the distant past the ancestors of modern homo sapiens descended from the trees, left the forests and moved out into the savannah. However, there is a minority opinion in the field of anthropology that disagrees with this theory. These anthropologists say that by the time Homo sapiens moved into the savannah we had already been through a great deal of evolution, because a close ancestor of Homo sapiens underwent an aquatic phase. According to this theory our ancient ancestors would have spent a great deal of time in the water, perhaps the majority of the day. Thus, Homo sapiens would have begun to exhibit certain evolutionary adaptations to this lifestyle. However, there are certain attributes modern humans share with aquatic mammals, which are not present in savannah mammals. Relative hairlessness and bipedalism are two of these characteristics, which modern humans have. Unlike savannah mammals whose bodies are completely covered in hair, modern humans and aquatic animals lack. As well as bipedalism, which is the ability to walk upright on two legs, which gives humans great advantages over other animals. Modern humans also have a greater amount of body fat than those savannah mammals, as well as larger brains. Some proponents of the Aquatic Ape Theory have insinuated that our brain to body ratio is due to an aquatic past. It is said that the fats and other substances found in seafood contributed to the evolution of a better brain, which only could have happened when our ancestors began to spend more time in the sea. The last of these attributes to modern humans is the respiratory system. The ability that modern humans have today to control breathing is unusual for a land mammal, and is suggestive of those that have evolved in an aquatic environment. Also, the position of the larynx in humans is more like that of an aquatic mammal rather than that of other land mammals.
There may not be legitimate evidence to back up the claim that mermaids do in fact exist, however, there has to be some truth to the mermaid legend seeing as we know what they look like, how they act, and what species they are related to. There is a reason mermaids have been and still are currently popular within our culture. Only twenty-five percent of the world’s oceans have been studied, that means that there is still a seventy-five percent chance that mermaids are real. There have been biologists who have recently come forward to explain strange sounds that have been recorded deep beneath the ocean as mermaids. Although, there is no way to completely prove that these sounds are that of mermaids, with enough research we can identify which marine species is closely related to these sounds. These biologists have said the sounds are very unique and unlike anything they have heard before, but are similar to that of a whale. Therefore, the depiction we as a culture already have of mermaids is pretty spot on.