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Ocean Lovers

The Mermaid's Tale

Feeling at home in the ocean is more than a myth.

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Quick Tips For Beginner Mermaids

A professional mermaid takes one (very willing) volunteer under her tail…

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Spotlight: Lori Pappajohn

As far as mermaids go, Lori is as real as it gets. Before she slipped into her tail for a swim, she spent some time chatting with Ocean Wise about the ocean, and what being a mermaid means to her.

Photo: Mermaids International
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Top Jobs for Water Lovers

Feel more at home in water than on land? Maybe it’s time for a career change…

  1. Marine Scientist

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  2. Geoduck Diver

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  3. Underwater Archaeologist

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  4. Cirque du Soleil

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  1. Marine Scientist
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    AKA Scientist of the Sea

    A huge percentage of all life on Earth is found under the waves, so there’s a plethora of species and ecosystems just waiting for you to study them. Hot tip: you will need a degree in something like zoology, biology or ecology.
  2. Geoduck Diver
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    Clamming Up

    Harvesting the geoduck clam (pronounced "gooey-duck") is lucrative, but really hard work. Still, if hauling gigantic bivalves out of the seabed sounds like a good time to you, get on that application form!
  3. Underwater Archaeologist
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    More than a Pastime

    Love history? Love water? With some scuba gear, you could spend your days exploring shipwrecks and abandoned underwater cities and documenting, well, rocks and stuff, to gain a better understanding of the past.
  4. Cirque du Soleil
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    Totally Realistic

    If you’re a world-class acrobat, synchronized swimmer or high-dive performer up for relocating to Las Vegas, starring in the incredible water-based show "O" could be the job for you. A little niche, admittedly.
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When Science Meets Fiction

How legend leads scientists to new species.

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Get in the Water

The more we love the ocean, the more we want to care for it. Whether you're swimming, snorkelling or just splashing, there's a whole watery world waiting for you.

Photo: rebl1231 / flickr

Now make a splash of your own – share this with your friends.

Mermaids have been in the human psyche for thousands of years, all over the world in many different cultures. To me, mermaids represent everything about the sea that we still don’t know.

Lori Pappajohn

Photo: Mermaids International

Modern mermaids like to think of themselves as stewards of the sea. Mermaids today are people who love the ocean and want to protect it.

Lori Pappajohn

Photo: Mermaids International

Why am I a mermaid? Because above all I love to be in the water.

Lori Pappajohn

Photo: Mermaids International
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It Looks A Lot Like…

The siphon (or neck) of the geoduck is thick, wrinkly, and (wink, wink) it’s considered an aphrodisiac.

Gooey and Chewy

Geoduck is pronounced, "gooey-duck." The world’s largest burrowing clam, known for its sweet, delicate, and briny flavor, is considered a delicacy in Japan and China.

Older Than You Think

These suckers are some of the longest lived animals in the world. The oldest geoduck ever recorded was 168 years old!

Photo: lawdawg1 / flickr

Dig Deep

Geoduck means “dig deep” in Lushootseed, a language shared by Aboriginal peoples along Puget Sound and the Salish Sea in the Pacific Northwest.

Let It All Hang Out

The geoduck is the official mascot of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Its motto? Omnia Extares: "Let it all hang out."

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In 1493, Christopher Columbus was sailing near Haiti when he spotted three mermaids basking in the sun. They “rose well out of the sea,” the Admiral wrote in his ship log, “but they are not so beautiful as they are painted, though to some extent they have the form of a human face.”

“Mermaids and manatees, fantastical creatures and undocumented animals: this is where the fields of cryptozoology and mainstream science collide.”

Sadly, these were not mermaids. They were manatees — a marine mammal related to elephants. With their heavily whiskered faces, pinprick eyes, and bloated bodies, these gentle sea cows are not particularly feminine looking. But after being cooped up on an all-male ship for so long, the manatee was half-woman enough for Columbus.
Mermaids and manatees, fantastical creatures and undocumented animals: this is where the fields of cryptozoology and mainstream science collide. Cryptozoology is the study of hidden animals, known as “cryptids”: chupacabras, krakens, Yetis, nightmare-devouring demons, the Loch Ness monster, the Abominable Snowman and, of course, the mermaid.

The scientific community often dismisses cryptozoology because it doesn’t follow the scientific method and because cryptozoologists chase after monster myths rather than rigorously and equally pursuing all new life forms. Meanwhile, cryptozoologists point to their work raising awareness of endangered and extinct animals, like the Tasmanian tiger, the okapi and the dodo bird.

Naturalists once thought the dodo bird nothing but a fantasy. But, in the late 16th century, Dutch seafarers documented the flightless, now-extinct bird and dubbed them “dodaersen” (Dutch for fat-asses).

Despite their differences, cryptozoology and academic science share a common goal: discover new species. In recent years, they’ve started to collaborate in new and fruitful ways. In 2012, Bryan Sykes, Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Oxford, posted a call for “organic material from formally undescribed species or ‘cryptids’, for the purpose of their species identification by genetic means.” Sykes and his colleagues at the Museum of Zoology have the tools and the access to DNA-test a single strand of hair. So, why not test out some cryptid hair?

Sykes’ study — the first-ever systematic genetic survey of primate hair — was published in 2014 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. No positive ID on Bigfoot just yet, but two Himalayan samples sent in from cryptozoologists matched the DNA of a polar bear from the Pleistocene era that ended 11,700 years ago.

“86% of terrestrial species and 91% of aquatic species are still leading unclassified lives around the planet.”

By providing testable evidence, like so-called Yeti hair, cryptozoologists can help scientists document unknown or hybrid species. In this pursuit, taxonomists and biologists need all the help they can get. A 2010 study estimated that 86% of terrestrial species and 91% of aquatic species are still leading unclassified lives around the planet.

Back in 1493, when Christopher Columbus mistook a manatee for a mermaid, the modern method of classifying animals was still 265 years in the future. From a distance, the species could look human. The manatee can turn her head about. She has mammary glands in about the same place as a woman. And her forearm bends at the elbow, so she cradles her newborn the same way humans do.

Manatees have mammary glands in about the same place as human females, which might have been the reason Columbus mistook them for mermaids.

As an Italian, Columbus would have no experience with the manatees or their Indo-West Pacific cousins, the dugongs, which frequent water far from European shores. His description became the first written record of the manatee. The species’ scientific name pays tribute to the fantastical first impression the mammal made hundreds of years ago: Sirenia – a reference to the legendary mermaids that sung sailors to their death.

It’s also nod to the myths and legends that lead to the discovery of new species.

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