Friday, November 30, 2007


Myth vs Reality and Somewhere in between

Why would 1. Cryptozoologists pay any attention to something as weird as mermaids and mermen?

To answer that question, we first need to look at the history of these legends and sightings.

Mermaids and their male counterparts, mermen (both sexes are collectively referred to as merfolk" or sometimes "merbeings"), are found in legends and fairy tales along every coastline in the world, from Scotland to Hawaii, from Australia to Africa. Along with being geographically widespread, these tales are very old, dating back to the earliest written records from ancient Samaria.

As you might expect, merfolk are not a popular topic in cryptozoology. Since they sound so unreal, anyone working in cryptozoology who pays much attention to them can end up very embarrassed.

However, merfolk are the object of a surprising number of first-hand sightings and modern reports. The sheer volume of these reports can often force cryptozoologists to pay attention.

Therefore, mermaids and mermen are more than just a preoccupation for fringe cryptozoologists.

Even though merfolk are biologically absurd, some mainstream cryptozoologists have devoted considerable attention to trying to unravel this mystery.

The older fairy tales and today's sightings differ in a number of important ways. Although fairy tales like to describe mermaids that are blond, talkative and entirely human from the waist up, tales from first-hand witnesses generally describe mermaids who don't talk at all, who have green or black hair, and who have some fishy characteristics on their top halves and the tail portion of the body starts below the pelvis. (John William Waterhouse, the famous painter, depicts his mermaids with the tail portion starting at he knee.)

There are several different scientific theories that have been put forth to explain mermaids and mermen. One idea is that merfolk are animals. They might be some variety of undiscovered fish that has a top half that simply looks human, or they might be a variety of primate that evolved to a half-aquatic lifestyle. Unfortunately, not much evidence has come forth to support either idea. If merfolk exist and are animals, they must be incredibly rare, for science has never managed to get a dead body despite the fact that merfolk are supposed to love hanging about near shore, where capture should be easy and bodies would probably wash onto the beach.

However . . . . .

Over the years many amazing new species have been found.

Here are just a few of the cryptids that have now become an accepted part of mainstream zoology:

The Komodo Dragon - The now well-known Komodo dragon was considered by many to be simply a myth until 1912.

The Pygmy Chimpanzee - The pygmy chimpanzee (Bonobo) was only identified as being a separate species in 1929.

The Coelacanth - The sea-dwelling Coelacanth had been believed extinct for millions of years. Then in 1938 one was caught off the coast of South Africa, an event described as akin to finding a living dinosaur. Many more of these "living fossils" have since been caught.

The Chacoan Peccary - These boar-like creatures were believed extinct until rediscovered in the 1970’s.

Gallotia Gomerana - The Gallotia Gomerana lizard had been believed extinct for hundreds of years - then in 1999 it was rediscovered on the Canary Islands.

The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker - This wonderful bird was believed extinct since 1944. Then it was sighted in 2004. Its existence was officially confirmed in April 2005, in a remote nature reserve in Arkansas .

That's just a small selection of found cryptids. New species of hidden animals are being discovered or rediscovered, all the time, all over the world.

That's what makes cryptozoology so fascinating.

No-one knows what we might find tomorrow.

1. Cryptozoology is the study of animals that are rumored to exist, but for which conclusive proof is still missing; the term also includes the study of animals generally considered extinct, but which are still occasionally reported. Those who study or search for such animals are called cryptozoologists, while the hypothetical creatures involved are referred to by some as "cryptids", a term coined by John Wall in 1983.

No comments: