On January 9th 1493 Christopher Columbus, on his famous voyage of discovery, records the crew seeing three mermaids whilst sailing near the Dominican Republic. In his journal he describes them as being “not half as beautiful as they are painted”. What the crew actually saw that day, were sea cows (manatees).
Now it was not uncommon for sailors to see manatees and mistake them for mermaids. In fact, it’s widely accepted that the myth of the mermaid actual arose from sailors spotting manatees in the distance. But the thought of Columbus getting such a good look as to describe the face of the creature, and yet still comparing it to the stories and drawings of the mesmerizingly beautiful sirens that led so many a sailors to their doom. What Columbus must have thought of his fellow sailors’ taste in women as he gazed upon the face of the now present siren of the sea.
To this day a decently-large percentage of people believe that Mermaids are real. Found hoaxes such as the half monkey, half fish taxidermy project of noted showman P.T. Barnum in 1842 or more recently, Animal Planet’s 2012 shameful act of hosting a series of fictional documentaries which had an Orson Welles effect, has done little to dissuade believers.
The fact is that every sea-faring culture over the past two-millennia have reported similar accounts of the creature, collectively referred to as mermen and mermaids. So it begs to question; does a life at sea collectively inspire such imaginative beings, or is it possible that somewhere amidst the 319million cubic miles of the earth’s ocean, lives such astonishing secrets yet to be explored?
On April 7th we will once again be returning to the subject of mermaids as we recount the original publishing of the Little Mermaid in 1837. Slightly different than the Disney adaption, as you will read. In the meantime, if you are interested in more maritime accounts you can read the Journal of the First Voyage of Columbus below, thanks to AmericanJourneys.org