Fall Edition: Mermaids

Sandy wiped a cloth across the sign on her door that read “Professor Beach, Cryptozoologist.” She was excited to begin her newest adventure, studying mythical creatures. It had been her life-long dream to travel to the Himalayas and see a real-live Yeti, or to Scotland to see the Loch Ness Monster. Today, however, she was loading up her SCUBA gear and heading out to see if there was any truth to the myth of the mermaid!

Legends of mermaids go back thousands of years and exist in many cultures. In each, the mermaid is depicted as a beautiful creature with the upper body of a woman and the tail of a fish. Mermaids can be found in folk-tales, art, movies and literature. Sandy had been fascinated by the stories she’d read as a little girl. She couldn’t wait to dive in the oceans where they were rumored to live.

Some people believe that the stories came from sailors really seeing a marine mammal called a manatee that had sea weed draped over its head. The “mermaid” would sing to sailors, causing them to leap into the ocean. It was because of this myth that the manatee and its cousin the dugong belong to a family of marine mammals called Sirenia. In Greek mythology, the Sirens were their version of the mermaid. Their songs were said to cause sailors to dive to their death.

Sandy and her SCUBA buddy Finn loaded their gear onto the dive boat “Ariel” and climbed aboard. They were headed to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. They were headed to the Bermuda Triangle. The boat left the dock and headed towards the blue sea. Sandy and Finn looked over their gear one last time. They had to make sure everything was in order. Tanks were full of air, dive computers were operational, and regulators and masks were good to go. The sky above was a cloudless blue, and the seas were calm. Even if they didn’t see mermaids today, it would be a good day to dive! Sandy and Finn had been diving together for a while now. It was important to dive with a buddy. If something went wrong with your equipment, you had someone nearby to help you out. They couldn’t count on a passing mermaid to save them if something happened! Finn thought the trip was silly. He was looking forward to whatever they might see, but didn’t think mermaids were on the list.

As the boat got closer to the spot where they were going to dive, Dive Master Dave indicated it was time to start getting ready. Sandy slipped into her wetsuit. This part of her gear was made from a special kind of rubber, called neoprene, which trapped water between her skin and the suit. Her body heat would warm up the water. This was how she’d stay warm. She put on her BCD – Buoyancy Compensator Device – that was attached to her tank. This special vest could have air added to it so she could go up in the water, or have air taken out so she could go down. It was an important part of her gear that helped her hover in the water right where she wanted to stay.

As she put on her fins and mask, Sandy mused how much easier it would be to be a mermaid! She wouldn’t need any of this equipment to stay warm or to float. She wouldn’t need a tank to breathe. She could just cruise through the water, swishing her tail to get from reef to reef.

The boat stopped and the crew got to work. They carefully lowered the anchor so it didn’t disturb any corals below the boat. The captain gave a look at their work, and told Dave that everything was ready for them to head in. Sandy felt her heart begin to race a little as she moved to the platform where she would jump into the ocean. Each time she entered the ocean – whether diving or just a day at the beach – she felt she had arrived at her happy place. She looked over Finn’s tank and gear, and he checked hers over one more time. They put their regulators in their mouths, and then one-by-one they jumped!

As she entered the cool clear water, Sandy took a moment to adjust to her weightlessness. She looked over to Finn, and gave him the “OK” sign with her fingers. He returned the gesture, and they began to swim deeper into the sea. Since they couldn’t talk underwater, they would use hand signals to communicate. “Okay”, “Out of Air”, and “Look” were just a few of the signals they could use. They also had signals they used for some of the animals. They could let each other know if one of their favorites was swimming nearby.

A few silvery fish swam past them as they got closer to the ocean floor. They adjusted their BCDs as they came to a stop just above a brightly colored reef. Coral was easily damaged. They took care to hover above it and not accidentally kick it with their fins. Fish darted between the corals. Small shrimp climbed into crevices. A sea star slowly made its way across the sand.

Sandy eagerly scanned the area, her eyes darting here and there. Finn put one hand above the other and wiggled his thumbs, the sign for “sea turtle”. Sandy looked in the direction he was pointing. She saw a green sea turtle lazily push its way through the water. She watched it for a few moments, before looking around some more. She saw a flash of silvery scales dart behind a large coral boulder and swam in pursuit. Was that a mermaid?

Legends say that mermaids often lured sailors to their deaths, and were not fond of humans. Sandy used caution as she turned the corner, and came face to face with a large black grouper! She stopped mid kick and her eyes widened. This fish was almost as long as she was tall! She knew she was in no danger and admired the handsome animal as it slowly swam away from her. She gestured to Finn, and he joined her. They both watched the fish depart. They knew that many people would have tried to catch such a large specimen, since grouper was a popular food fish. They preferred to watch the animal swim away. They were happy to have had the encounter.

The two of them explored the reef for a little while longer, until Dave approached and tapped on his dive watch. It was nearing time for them to return to the boat. They could only be under the sea for so long without running out of air.

Sandy gave a few more glances around the reef before sighing to herself. No mermaids today. She followed Dave and Finn towards their boat. She reached the surface, and squinted at the bright sunlight above. Removing her regulator, she took a breath of fresh air. Then she swam over to the platform to return to the boat. Her lips tasted of salt, her fingers were wrinkly and her hair felt sticky, but she was exhilarated. She gave another look around as she waited for Finn to go aboard. She thought she saw a flick of a tail in the shimmery water. Was *that* a mermaid, she wondered? Or was it just a trick of the sun on the surface of the sea? She looked over at Finn and Dave. They were both leaning in the other direction, busy loading up the gear. She doubted either of them saw what she had seen.

Like many other mythical creatures, mermaids are just a legend, living in the hearts of those who believe in them. Sandy wanted to believe they were real, and dreamed that she would see one someday.