From a Picture by Otto Sinding, A Sri Lanka stamp featuring the elusive Dugong. Like their close kin the manatees, dugongs belong to the order Sirenia, whose members have long inspired mermaid myths across the globe. A lesser known cousin of the manatee, the dugong (Malay for “lady of the sea”) is said to have inspired ancient mermaid legends. 15 myths, legends and facts about mermaids – A mermaid is a female creature which is half-human and half-fish. Legend has it that in the early 13th century a mermaid washed ashore in Hakata Bay on the Japanese island of Kyushu. The IUCN lists the dugong as vulnerable, as it is extinct or declining in at least one-third of its range. Sri Lanka cannot afford to lose the dugong, 
the mermaid of the Gulf of MannarSo perfectly located are these openings that no other part of either the head or body breaks the water's surface when a surreptitious breath is taken. The siren is a distinct classification of aquatic sea life with special characteristics and all of the characteristics are a direct parallel of the mermaid. The sirens of Greek mythology (especially the Odyssey), conceived of as half-bird and half-woman, gradually shifted to the image of a fish-tailed woman. As with elephants the dugong's longevity is remarkable: the oldest recorded specimen reached the age of 73. The dugong is an awkward looking animal with its somewhat elephant-like trunkless head - indeed it is a distant relative of the elephant, which makes it of added interest in the context of Sri Lanka's fauna - large horseshoe-shaped upper lip, and bulbous body. Scintillating Stones from the Island of Gems, Post Conflict Sri Lanka: Challenges and Regional Stability. They live under the sea, together with Dugong, and other sea creatures. Such ningyo have also been made by the Japanese, one of the most famous examples being P. T. Barnum’s ‘Fiji Mermaid’ . We’re Finalists for a Science Journalism Award! While manatees can be very graceful in the water, they typically weigh in at over 1000 pounds and their faces are not easy to mistake for a woman’s face. Photographer Brian Skerry reveals the creatures once believed to be mermaids. An illustration of a Dugong. They also have natural predators, such as sharks and crocodiles. Now I just heard on TV (the Spike show "MANswers, not the most reliable of sources, perhaps) that the female dugong has genital… There is now only 1 species in this family, the other member, Steller’s sea cow, having been exterminated in the 18th century by excessive hunting, only 25 years after its discovery. Among myths and legends for kids, mermaids are a favorite. as they say they saw her, but her body as big as one of us. In the 18th and 19th centuries, mermaid specimens held a particular grip on Western popular imagination. Even the British Museum down the road boasts having its own mermaid. The myth of humanlike water spirits has perpetuated over the centuries. There is a theory that mermaid legends came about as a result of (presumably very drunk and very lonely) sailors mistaking manatees or dugongs (salt-water relatives of manatees) for attractive women with fish tails. There’s a 2.7-meter-long skeleton of a big underwater creature in the Grant Museum of Zoology, right when you enter the main room. The dugong skeleton making waves (Grant Museum, Z33). Myth Stories about Mermaids. I’ve always heard that manatees and dugongs were the source of the siren and mermaid myths. A Mermaid by John Waterhouse, 1900. They also possess a dolphin fluke-like tail. Mermaid myth stems from dumpy dugong. Fantasy and the imagination may need a good workout with the appearance of these creatures. The blue unruffled sheet stretched to the low horizon where it met the vast immensity of the pastel sky, with its soft cloud masses as motionless as in a picture. Architecture has been described as ‘frozen history' and here on our little Island that is exactly what it has become... Gems, both precious and semi-precious , are a wonderful 
Sri Lankan resource. ", According to John Shaw, author of Speculum Mundi (1635), the song of the mermaid was not as tuneful as was popularly supposed, "But above all the Mermaids and Men-fish seem to me the most strange fish in the waters. One of these specimens "lived four days and seven hours, but refusing all food, died without leaving any intelligible account of herself". For ages, it has been forbidden to eat dugong. Since then, people of the two tribes have refrained from eating dugong. Now I just heard on TV (the Spike show "MANswers, not the most reliable of sources, perhaps) that the female dugong has genitals most similar to the human female, and they either implied or said outright that sailors would doink them. Mermaids Uncovered. Unlike their Western counterparts, the Japanese ningyo, in general, are much less attractive. The spectacular Ves dance is an experience few visitors to Sri Lanka can afford to miss. Dugong is derived from the Malay name for the animal, duyong, meaning "lady of the sea". Dugongs, manatees (Trichechus spp.) Found in warm Indo-Pacific waters, dugongs can … In addition to the Gulf, the dugong once populated the Island's east coast as Hugh Nevill notes in his journal, The Taprobanian (1885): "Off Batticaloa it is reported by fishermen to live permanently towards Vandeloos Bay, and it is occasionally caught in the outlet of the Batticaloa Lake. The Dugong: Mermaid Myth, Modern Reality . The animal - a type of mammal that is sometimes thought to be the source of the mermaid myth - … Read "Mermaid" in Tagalog. Have you ever watched Ariel the little mermaid? THE DUGONG.From Sir J. Emerson Tennent's 'Ceylon'. Famously featured in George R.R. Remarkably, the range of the non-migratory dugong once extended from the Red Sea, Arabian coast and the east coast of Africa in the west, to the Solomon and Marshall Islands and New Caledonia in the east. Apart from these factors, the dugong is a slow breeder, because the suckling of its young is a lengthy process. And yet the mermaid is not recognized formally as a true marine creature. It’s not surprising, then, that sailors spotted these animals from their ship’s deck. Myths in the Museum: The Dugong and the Mermaid. An entity born from the imagination of man, it is but a legend. Martin's Game of Thrones franchise, the dire wolf is far more than a popular legend. On my first Saturday shift as a PhD museum engager, a 7-year-old boy stopped to point and ask his mom what this monster was, and why it had hands. Filed under Current Engagers, Jen Datiles, Museum Collections, Myths in the Museum, Tags: Grant Museum, museums, Myths in the Museum, natural history, UCL Researchers in Museums, […] is the third segment in the Myths in the Museum series; you can go back and read about the dugong and mermaid, and the narwhal and […], […] Myths in the Museum: The Dugong and the Mermaid […], Myths in the Museum: The Iron-Eater and the Ostrich Egg, Multispectral Imaging of Leonardo da Vinci Drawings, ‘Writing the Law’ Launches at Lambeth Palace Library, Student Engagers Win ‘Oscars of Science Journalism!’. This taboo is based on a legend of a woman, who jumps into the sea and changes into a dugong. I have known stray specimens to be caught about Dondra and Matara.". It was a scene of breathless beauty, a glory of the firmament that whispered to the heart of man: It is God.". Mermaids of Asia: Dugongs, Dragon Wives and the Deep ... co-author of The Origins of the Mermaid Myth, points out, a Dutch seaman called Hamel … Myths in the Museum: The Dugong and the Mermaid, University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT Tel: +44 (0) 20 7679 2000. An entity born from the imagination of man, it is but a legend. Several months ago my daughter asked me what I considered a very unusual question. Read more about the study, and other animals thought to be pure myth. Seeing the reality in a personal myth could also be just as confronting. Sri Lanka cannot afford to lose the dugong, the mermaid of the Gulf of Mannar. The dugong and the manatee are related to the myth of sirens, enough to be classified in the order of Sirenians (or Sirenidae). tayle of a porposse, and speckled like a macrell.”, An 1817 coloured engraving of mermaids. Sirena or mermaid, according to myth is a sea creature, half woman and half fish. (Photo: Heini Schneebeli). The way that dugongs rest, with their heads above the waves, may have been the inspiration for the myth of the mermaid. The Dugong: Mermaid Myth, Modern Reality . The hype began when several astonishingly realistic mermaid ‘specimens’ from Asia — primarily from Japan — made their way to Europe during Japan’s isolation policy under the Tokugawa shogunate. (Credit: Wellcome Collection), Captain Hailborne at St. Johns Newfoundland, from Newe Welt und Americanische Historian by Ludwig Gottfried, 1655. The siren is a distinct classification of aquatic sea life with special characteristics and all of the characteristics are a direct parallel of the mermaid. The most likely explanation for those mermaid sightings reported by sailors both past and present is confusion with other marine creatures, specifically, the manatee or dugong. The manatee might not have fooled some sharper-eyed sailors, and it probably wasn't the reason that mermaid legends (in general) were born. And these ‘Japanese mermaids’ continue to captivate our interest into the present day, not only out of curiosity but for science and conservation studies; researchers at the nearby Wellcome Collection recently investigated what two of these cleverly constructed specimens (long assumed to be a monkey head sewn to a fish body) are actually made of. They're blubbery, whiskery, rotund and about as far removed from the lissom, nubile image of mermaids as you could get. What is a Dugong? The dugong, or ia tekwa in the Lau language, is a taboo animal for the people of Bailangi and Buni tribes. Mermaids were sought after by collectors and showmen alike to draw crowds, as P.T. The dugong is said to be the origin of the mermaid myth. Dugongs have a very low reproductive rate. The word mermaid comes from the words mer (sea) and maid (girl). Des Ritters Carl von Linné Königlich Schwedischen Leibarztes &c. &c. vollständigen Natursystems Supplements- und Register-Band über alle sechs Theile oder Classen des Thierreichs. The idea of mermaid-like creatures might not have totally originated with manatees; it could just be that manatees -- when spotted -- fit the bill. The dugong and the manatee are related to the myth of sirens, enough to be classified in the order of Sirenians (or Sirenidae). Viscardi P, Hollinshead A, MacFarlane R, Moffatt J, 2014. It may not look like it now, but just think of how this creature inspired sailors, shamans, and showmen to perpetuate myths of mermaids across the world, and over hundreds of years! Because Sailors used to mistake them for mermaids. Being a slow-moving vegetarian that prefers localized habitats in shallow waters around bays and inlets, and with no means of defence, the dugong is a victim of pollution, accidental netting, and indiscriminate fishing. Since the lower part of her body resembles a fish, Atargatis is often referred to as a mermaid goddess. (Credit: Royal Academy), The “mermaid” from the Horniman Museum. So it is of interest that during the past the Island and its surrounding sea, especially the Gulf of Mannar, were firmly linked with mermaid-lore and sightings of mermaid-like creatures. Today dugongs are better understood. And mistaking them for beautiful humanlike creatures is not entirely far-fetched… when one considers these men could have been at sea for years at a time and knew every tall tale of fantastical ocean creatures in the book. Valentyn, a Dutch chaplain, gives detailed descriptions of them in his account of the Netherlands Possessions in the Indian Subcontinent (1727). Known as the guardian of the water. Origins. Dugongs are slimmer than their cousins, but this is relative — they still can grow to 3 meters in length and weigh up to a whopping 1000 kg! In addition to the numerous species of fish - including sharks and stingrays - turtles, and an array of dolphins and whales, there is the intriguing, myth-laden, and highly endangered dugong, sadly an almost forgotten creature among Sri Lanka's fauna. The Life Cycle of a Dugong Dugongs can live until they are seventy years old. ... Lots of mermaid folk tales and myths say they are, and others don't. The female dugong displays extraordinary devotion towards her young, cradling them and suckling them - the teats are underneath the flipper - while simultaneously swimming in an upright position. This contradicts the older tradition, expressed so eloquently by Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1595): Since once I sat upon a promontory, And heard a mermaid on a dolphin's back,Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath, That the rude sea grew civil at her song, And certain stars shot madly from their spheres, To hear the sea-maid's music. The manatee—along with its Pacific Ocean counterpart, the dugong—comes from the order sirenia. The ancient Greek sirens, which originally were described with human heads on birds’ bodies, have also often been portrayed with fishtails. Ask Question Log in. They resemble a walrus, related to the elephant, called a sea-cow and growing to three metres and weighing up to 400 kilograms. With most of our blue planet covered by water, it's little wonder that, centuries ago, the oceans were believed to hide mysterious creatures including sea serpents and mermaids. I’ve always heard that manatees and dugongs were the source of the siren and mermaid myths. ...It is not surprising that early mariners who caught a glimpse of this strange creature began to speculate on its identityThe mermaid, a beautiful girl to her waist but a fish from the waist down, and her male counterpart, the merman, are still among the most popular of legendary creatures, especially in Northern Europe. Another reason why dugongs are seldom seen is that they breathe through their nostrils. Subsequently, the existence of a sea creature with the aspect of a woman was recorded by Megasthenes, a Macedonian ambassador to India soon after Alexander's death. As the animal dives, the nostrils close automatically, and it can remain submerged for upwards of five minutes. Christopher Columbus reported seeing mermaids near Haiti in 1493, and the English explorer Henry Hudson (namesake of New York’s Hudson River) gave a vivid description of the mermaid his crew apparently saw off the coast of Greenland in 1608: “From the navill upward her backe and breasts were like a woman’s, In her going downe they saw her tayle, which was like the An illustration of a Dugong. The mom glanced at the display label, read its name, DUGONG, and then stopped and looked at me — what on earth was this note about this animal starting the myth of mermaids? As Rita Dal Martello has written on our blog before, dugongs and manatees both belong to the animal genus Sirenia, and share the common name ‘sea cow’. Henry Wellcome (1853-1936), whose massive collection has been distributed over the years to various museums including our own Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, saw mermaids worth purchasing for their anthropological value; his two specimens are now housed in the Science Museum over in South Kensington, and in the Buxton Museum. 8. The Mermaid myth. But that's exactly what dugongs were once mistaken for, according to … Journal of Museum Ethnography, (27): 98-116. In Sri Lanka it is commonly referred to as "sea-pig" (elsewhere as "sea-cow" even "sea-camel"), a translation of both the Sinhala name muda ura and Tamil name kadel pardi. The Evening Independent, 30 March 1984, pp. The Dutch were also inclined to believe in the existence of mermaids. "From above, the curves of a dugong apparently looked like a woman to sailors." A relative of the dugong, though much larger, was the Steller's sea cow, which became extinct in the late 1700's due to over hunting. I’ve always heard that manatees and dugongs were the source of the siren and mermaid myths. ‘Singing’ Dugongs could likely be the reality behind the myth of mermaids. They are often portrayed as creatures with the top half of a monkey and the bottom half of a fish. There’s a 2.7-meter-long skeleton of a big underwater creature in the Grant Museum of Zoology, right when you enter the main room. The Gulf of Mannar was well frequented by sailing craft from time immemorial, so it is not surprising that early mariners who caught a glimpse of this strange creature began to speculate on its identity. He even relates several instances when mermaids were supposedly captured. It was in such a rapturous fashion that the late Dr Richard Spittel, Sri Lanka's renowned wildlife conservationist, anthropologist, 
and surgeon, once described the Gulf of Mannar, a unique corner of the Indian Ocean nestling between northern 
Sri Lanka and the south-eastern tip of India. The idea of mermaid-like creatures might not have totally originated with manatees; it could just be that manatees -- when spotted -- fit the bill. The myth of sirens, which goes back to the civilization of ancient Greece, is as much aged as dugongs are, of which remains dating from 6000 years ago have been found. For you see mermaids are listed in mythology while manatees and dugongs are known and documented creatures of the sea. Her The endangered dugong is nature's only vegetarian sea mammal. Words Richard Boyle "Over the tranquil sea of the Gulf of Mannar the morning breeze blew fresh. Today it is confined in exceedingly small numbers to restricted areas in a range that spans the waters of 37 countries throughout the Indo-Pacific region, including 
Sri Lanka's Gulf of Mannar. Another Dutch chaplain, Baldaeus, was more down-to-earth when he wrote in 1703: "They have a peculiar fish (probably a sea-calf) of an amphibious nature; the females have breasts and give suck, and the flesh, when well-boiled, tastes not unlike our sturgeon, and might easily be mistaken for veal. The Portuguese cherished belief in the mermaid, for according to an annalist of the exploits of the Jesuits in India, seven were captured in the Gulf of Mannar in 1560. and the extinct Steller’s Sea Cow (Hydrodamalis gigas) are in the animal order Sirenia, named for the beautiful sea sirens of classical mythology, a sea nymph, part woman and part bird.Legends tell of sea nymphs bewitching sailors with their siren song, luring ships to a shattering end (in rocky seabeds. Read on to learn about a possible origin of one of the most famous figures of maritime lore. Was it for real? The dugong is an aquatic animal and has a tail like a mermaid. Around 1000 BC in Assyria, Atargatis mistakenly killed her lover, a shepherd. This was allowed to be submitted to the members of the Philosophical Society, when it proved to be the Dugong,” as written in England’s Magazine of Natural History. The Truth And The Myth About Mermaid. A recent study in Nature has discovered how genetically distinct this prehistoric carnivore actually was. The little mermaid was based on a story of water nymph in German folklore named Undine (elemental beings) who could only obtain an immortal soul by marrying a human being. Shark Bay is one of the world’s largest and most secure population of this endangered mammal species. Thailand's beloved dugong Mariam found dead with plastic in its intestines. Closely linked with the mermaid myth, these alert, shy and curious creatures can live up to 70 years. The equivalent term in Old English was merewif. Around the world, dugongs have been hunted to near extinction. 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Have refrained from eating dugong Over the centuries the problem Lanka: Challenges and security... Animals thought to have started the myths of mermaids as you could get its own mermaid keeping a watchful open! S not surprising, then you should know what mermaids appear like a woman to.... Sea '' while manatees and dugongs were the source of the Gulf of Mannar the underwater of! The whooping noise that they breathe through their nostrils a justice system for danger counterparts, “. The most famous figures of maritime lore due to its propensity to eat -.