I know I’m not the only one who’s grown up absolutely fascinated by the possibility of mermaids deep in the ocean. Anna’s interview with Liana Brooks, a real live marine biologist and writer.
Liana, thanks so much for weighing in scientifically on the existence of mermaids. Here are a few questions we have for you:
Anna: First of all, please (and thank you!) state your credentials.
Liana: Thank you for inviting me to do this! I have a bachelors in Marine Biology from Florida Institute of Technology (but don’t check the alumni list for Liana Brooks, I write under a pen name). I’m an advanced open water PADI certified SCUBA diver, and I keep up with new research in my field by reading peer-reviewed articles and following some of the best marine minds on the planet on Twitter. I may not be an internationally recognized authority on marine life, but I was trained by professors who are and I fell fully qualified to help you and your readers learn all about mermaids.
Anna: The idea of mermaids has been around for thousands of years. Even Christopher Columbus recorded a mermaid sighting in his journal on one of his voyages. On top of that, it seems new forms of marine life are discovered quite often; after all, the oceans are vast and mostly unexplored. With that in mind, how much weight, in your opinion, does the marine biology community give to the idea that mermaids could actually exist? What are your personal thoughts?
Liana: That depends on what you mean by mermaid, doesn’t it? Are we discussing human-fish hybrids based on the gods of the ancient Babylonians and Sumerians? Are we talking about the sirens who sang Greek sailors to their deaths? Or are we discussing a sentient creature with a unique language, culture, and history that rivals modern human civilizations?
There are no human-fish hybrids a la The Little Mermaid. The human body is barely suitable for survival on land and in no way adapted for survival at sea. We’re built wrong for swimming, and even parallel evolution wouldn’t make a fish that looked like a human. So put the whole idea of the “aquatic ape theory” that was on the mockumentary out of your head. Those mermaids don’t exist. They were figments of the imagination conjured by dehydration, bad food, bad diets, and too much rum at sea.
But there are creatures in the ocean who fit the description of Mermaid in everything but the physical sense. Non-human persons who have languages, names, cultures, practices, and tool using practices. We call them Marine Mammals. Dolphins in particular are considered very intelligent and are recognized as non-human persons in India and are granted rights under that designation. Orca whales have complex groups with different dialects and behaviors depending on which group their born and raised in.
These wonderful animals. In some cases they are tool using animals. Their languages are as complex as many, if not all, human languages.
So, no, there are no human-fish hybrids out there swimming through undersea castles and singing to crabs. But there are amazing cultures in the ocean and far more to be discovered. Ninety-five percent of the ocean is unexplored. There is undoubtedly many more species to discover. As we do more research we are going to learn more about ocean dwelling creatures and we are going to find that there are wonderful, complex, and intelligent species out there. But they won’t look like us.
Anna: Will you humor me for a moment? Let’s assume that mermaids do exist. What methods and/or abilities would they need to keep their presence hidden from human discovery?
Liana: Okay, I’ll humor you, but I might give you nightmares.
The first thing the mermaids would need to do to avoid humans (assuming there’s no magic spell to put a veil over our eyes) would be to live in the deep ocean. Our coasts are pretty well explored, documented, and monitored so the best place for a mermaid to hide would be the pelagic (open-water) zones, the deeper the better.
To survive there the mermaids would need larger eyes because there isn’t much light out there. They would need to be able to withstand the pressure of deep water, and the abyssal cold. And they would need teeth or claws to fight off all the other pelagic predators because the deep ocean is a desert where food and resources are scarce.
There would be no mermaid lagoons or sunlight-lit castle of coral, not unless the mermaids were tiny. I suppose you could have teeny-tiny mermaids hiding with the fairy shrimp in a coral reef. But the best way to stay hidden at sea is to get away from the coast and dive deep.
Anna: If a mermaid was caught off a coast of the US today, what do you think would happen next? (As in, would the government step in, would efforts be made to keep the mermaid alive, what would be the reaction of the scientific community?)
Liana: Well, first, everyone would scream HOAX!!! at the top of their lungs. It’s been tried before. Aside from that horrible piece of TV trash ran by Animal Planet there’s a long history of displaying monkey and fish skeletons together, photoshopping pictures, and outright lying. No one would believe any mermaid found was real.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s pretend a real mermaid like those found in your books was found on the shores. The chances of a mermaid speaking English, Spanish, or any language found in America are pretty low. Since mermaids are aquatic it’s unlikely they would have developed speech patterns like ours and out of water the mermaid would be weak as an astronaut returning to Earth. Despite the pressures, water is a weightless sort of environment and marine creatures don’t move to land easily.
So your mermaid would be too weak to move, unprotected, and unable to communicate in a way that anyone understood. In the absolute best scenario the mermaid would be found be a research team who would drag the mermaid back to a lab and, possibly, learn to communicate with it.
Worst case scenario? The mermaid gets hauled up by a shrimp trawler and gets sold to a zoo or put on exhibit like a zoo animal. Whoever found the mermaid would own them until someone was able to prove that the mermaid was a sentient and human-like creature.
The scientific community would be split, I think. Some would hope the mermaid could communicate and would want to expend the effort to establish communication, others would be more interested in dissecting the mermaid to prove it was a hoax. Either way, there would be a lot of testing in the mermaid’s future. X-rays, MRIs, blood work… when a new species is found scientists like to count every bone and organ so we can put them in the right clade
Really? If there are mermaids out there they would want to stay as far away from us as possible. Humans are a very dangerous species.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Anna and Liana!
Want more Of Neptune? Comment below or on my review of the book with your email address and/or Twitter handle to win finished copies of all three novels! I’ll be picking winners at the end of the tour. (US/Canada only)
May 4: Into the Hall of Books
May 5: YA Sisterhood
May 6: Bewitched Bookworms
May 8: My Guilty Obsession
May 9: Icey Books
May 10: Two Chicks on Books
May 11: A Page of Heaven
May 12: YA Bibliophile
May 13: MacTeenBooks
Anna and Of Neptune are going on tour! Find out if the Fierce Reads authors will be stopping by in a town near you.
Anna Banks’s first novel, Of Poseidon, was a Macmillan Fierce Reads title. She lives in Crestview, on the Florida Panhandle, with her husband and their daughter.