Cannibalistic humanoids from the deep

I met Karl Banse, the famous oceanographer, a few times. Back when I started college, I was an oceanography major for a brief while, but then I got introduced to embryos of marine invertebrates and got seduced into developmental biology. I had no idea that he was destined to write a scientific paper on the biology of mermaids (pdf available), or I might not have drifted over to the zoology department.

Or on second thought, I might have been propelled even faster. It turns out that mermaids are nasty creatures.

Regarding mermaid behavior, a recurrent theme is the habit of the females to haul out on beaches (usually in pairs) allegedly to lure, then seduce sailors; their voices were repeatedly recorded as being “irresistible”. Perhaps they lured- but the stark fact was that they then drowned the men and devoured their flesh. Similarly, when ships broke up in gales, the females pulled sailors down into their abodes for further disposition.

Once again, Disney betrays reality. Ariel was not accurately portrayed.


  1. opposablethumbs says

    But dugongs are adorable herbivores threatened with extinction :-(((((

    O infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me.

  2. Al Dente says

    That mermaids and sirens lure sailors to their deaths was well known by Homer over 2700 years ago (give or take upwards of 500 years).

  3. johnhodges says

    One of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies portrayed mermaids as deadly, though they also had the option, if they chose, to cast some spell making a favored human capable of breathing water also, so (as in the movie “Splash”) if they fell in love with a human they could mate.

  4. says

    Rumiko Takahashi’s version of mermaids were quite nasty. Eating their flesh could turn some people immortal, but most people just died. The really unlucky ones ended up turning into monsters. The mermaids themselves would eat immortal flesh to regain their youth.

  5. David Marjanović says

    Too bad the name Siren is preoccupied – funnily enough by Linnaeus himself, when he apparently wrote his student Österdam’s thesis and published it in 1766.

    I…I…don’t know *what* to say? Early senilty?

    It’s a joke. This is what it looks like when biologists deadpan jokes.

    (link fixed to avoid redirect)
    “The Doctor finds the spaceship’s crew long dead from exposure to a human virus.” Bah. Humbug. *pout*

  6. blf says

    Mermaids are just the result of a bug in one of the early generic engineering attempts by Teh Ancient Astronauts to build the Platypus.

    (Of course, the real Platypus — on the Discworld’s XXXX continent — is itself the result of a bug in the wizards’s artistic abilities…)

  7. applebeverage says

    Once again, Disney betrays reality. Ariel was not accurately portrayed.

    But the entire plot of that movie was about how she didn’t want to be a mermaid, but a human. So obviously she wouldn’t act like your average mermaid.