Columbus and the Mermaids
by Guy McCardle
January 9, 2012
On January 9th, 1493 Christopher Columbus spotted what he believed to be three mermaids swimming off the coast of what is now the Dominican Republic. He stated that they were “not half as beautiful as they are painted”. In reality, Columbus spotted a trio of manatees. Six months prior to this explorer vs. cryptid encounter, Columbus set sail across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain with the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. He was hoping to find a western trade route to Asia but instead stumbled upon what was to be known as the New World.
The myth of the mermaid has existed in seafaring cultures since at least the time of the ancient Greeks. They are typically described as having the torso and head of a woman and a fishtail instead of legs. Mermaids supposedly make their homes in the ocean and, in some versions of the legend, can take on a human form and marry mortal men. Mermaids are closely linked to another mythical creature, the siren. They are said to part woman, part bird beings that live on islands and sing seductive songs to lure lonely sailors to their deaths.
Over the centuries there have been numerous reported sightings of mermaids. Those that were not completely fabricated were most likely manatees, dugongs or Steller’s sea cows. The latter of which became extinct in the 1760’s due to over-hunting. Manatees are large, slow-moving sea creatures with somewhat human-like eyes, bulbous faces and paddle-like tails. It is likely that the manatee and the elephant evolved from a common ancestor. The three species of manatee (Amazonian, West African and West Indian) and one species of dugong belong to the order Sirenia. They can grow to be 10-12 feet long and weigh between 800 to 1000 pounds. These herbivores have somewhat slow metabolisms and live only in warm waters.
Manatees can live up to 60 years in the wild and they have no natural predators. In the United States the majority of these creatures live in Florida where scores of them are killed or injured due to collisions with boats. They are considered to be an endangered species.
by Guy McCardle
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