Location: Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida
by Wayne Brown
Today we are going to visit the myth behind the manatee.
Manatees are part of an animal group ("order") called "Sirenia". The word "siren" comes from an old story from back in the days of Hercules. The ancient Greeks told a story about beautiful girls that lived in the sea, called "sirens". These girls sang very beautiful songs that would put sailors in a trance. The sailors would be so hypnotized by these songs that they would crash their ships into the rocks and sink, just to find the the girls that sang those songs. Just like the story of Hercules, these stories of the sirens were not true. For a long time people did believe that these beautiful and strange creatures were real.
People who lived near and worked on the sea knew that the sea was a strange and mysterious place. The sea seemed like it went for forever. People knew that the sea was so large there were many strange and interesting creatures hidden in it. Some creatures were dangerous and frightening. Some creatures. like mermaids, were beautiful and enchanting. Many people had actually seen mermaids, too! Mermaids were sea creatures that were half girl and half fish. These creatures were not really mermaids, but manatees (and dugongs). Manatees do not stick their heads out of the water to breathe. Looking down at these strangely shaped creatures swimming under the water, people could only see some strangely shaped creature swimming by. The front half of this creature had a head and arms (flippers) and back half had a tail like a fish. The only thing people knew that was shaped like this creature was a mermaid. After being out at sea, and away from girls, for a long time, sailors actually thought the manatees they were seeing were mermaids. Even Christopher Columbus mentioned the "mermaids" he had seen during his voyages to the New World. Columbus wrote in his log that these "mermaids" were not quite as beautiful as the sailors had told him. (I guess he didn't like bald, fat girls with wrinkly skin and no front teeth!)
Today we know that mermaids don't really exist...Or do they? We heard that there were some real mermaids that lived in one of the springs that manatees lived in and these springs were not too far from where we were staying! We had to see this for ourselves! We drove about 27 miles south of Crystal River to Weeki Wachee Springs. We got to the springs, dove into the water and, guess what? We really did see real mermaids! These mermaids were not like manatees where they would swim over to us to have us scratch their bellies. These mermaids were really girls dressed up like mermaids. The girls are trained to wear a tail and swim underwater, just like the mermaids in "The Little Mermaid". Just like Ariel in "Little Mermaid", these mermaids can change from having a tail to having legs. We got to meet and swim with these "mermaids" and talk to them about their mermaid job. They told us that during cold winter days manatees will sometimes swim into their springs and play with them. (I wonder what manatees think of these strange underwater creatures. Do the manatees think they are "manmaids", half manatee and half human?)
If you come to Florida to see manatees, come and see the "mermaids", too! Imagine seeing "The Little Mermaid" performed underwater by "real" mermaids!
Weeki Wachee Springs is the world's only underwater theater. This is where you can see "real" mermaids.
This is a "real" live mermaid. (This is the performance of "The Little Mermaid.)
At about 30 feet underwater the "mermaids" look they can breath underwater, but they are really holding their breath. When they need to take a breath they breathe from air hoses laying on the bottom.
Time: 9:00 AM
Morning Air Temp: 68ºF
Afternoon Air Temp: 80ºF
Weather: light breeze, partly cloudy, with afternoon sun
Miles traveled by kayak so far:
Total manatees seen so far: 56
Total mermaids seen so far: 6
PHOTOS TAKEN SO FAR
(Above water): 156
(Above water): 778
Rolls of film shot
(36 exposures): 29 rolls
Weeki Wachee Spring
Distance from Crystal River:
27.4 miles (South)
Weeki Wachee Spring Water Temp: 74.2ºF
Maximum Water Depth: 45.7 meters
Water Salinity (salt in parts per thousand - ppt):
Spring #1: 0.00 NaCl ppt
Entrance to Springs: 0.00 ppt
Entrance to canal: 0.00 ppt
Spring #1: 1.00
Entrance to Springs: 1.00
Entrance to canal: 1.00