My Day as a Mermaid
Location: Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida
by Karen Brown
Did you know that there really are mermaids? I'm not talking about The Little Mermaid or the ones the sailors in the old days thought they saw (when they really saw manatees). I'm talking about real creatures who are half-woman and half-fish who live underwater with the fish and the turtles, and sometimes with manatees! We know that they exist because we saw them today.
Today Wayne and I drove to Weeki Wachee Springs. It took us about a half hour to get there in our van. Weeki Wachee Springs is also known as the City of Mermaids. It is a lovely park where people can go to see mermaids, watch bird shows, have a picnic, go for a boat ride on the Weeki Wachee River and go swimming in the summer.
We wanted to go to meet the mermaids and find out what it is like to be a mermaid. OK, so most of the time they are young women, but their job really is to be a mermaid. It takes one to three months of very difficult training to become a mermaid and swim in the mermaid shows.
If you would like to become a mermaid, here is how you do it, according to the mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs. First, if you are 18 years or older, you have to go there and apply for an audition. (That means you have to try out.) They don't expect you to know how to swim like a mermaid but they do expect you to be able to swim well and to be comfortable in the water.
Then you have to pass a scuba diving course and become a certified diver. They have an instructor there at the springs who certifies all the mermaids. Then you practice how to be a mermaid every day with the other mermaids and the instructor. Swimming and breathing like a mermaid is nothing like swimming and breathing like a scuba diver. ( Believe me, I know because I was a mermaid today! I'll tell you all about it in a little while.)
Anyway, the mermaids told me that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to learn how to swim and breathe like a mermaid. For some mermaids it takes six months of training to learn all the choreography and to be able to perform it properly. Just like a lot of things that seem difficult at first, practice and not giving up pay off in the end.
Unfortunately, I did not have six months to practice. But I did get a chance to try and see what it is like to be a mermaid. The other mermaids let me borrow one of their pretty gold costumes. The top is made mostly of sequins, all sparkly and spangley. The bottom part of the costume is shiny and is the tail of the mermaid.
The whole costume is made right there at Weeki Wachee Springs by a full-time costume designer named Joanne Hausen. She has two regular sewing machines and one special sewing machine, called a serger, for sewing the costumes. She is very talented and makes beautiful costumes for the mermaids to wear in the shows.
The bottom or tail part has an elastic waist. The fabric is a very stretchy nylon. It has a long zipper that goes from the bottom of the tail to the waist. Before I put it on, they let me borrow some swim fins. I walked out to the dock that leads right to the water of the spring. I tucked the swim fins close together in the bottom of the costume near the end of the tail. Then I sat down on the dock, stretched out my legs, and put my feet in the fins. One of the mermaids zipped the rest of the tail up around my legs and my hips.
Since I couldn't walk, the only thing I could do was swim. Have you ever tried to swim with your legs bound together? It is not a very pleasant feeling. They told me to do the dolphin kick, which I usually have no problem doing, but that tail made it a little difficult! It tried but I know I wasn't nearly as graceful as the real Weeki Wachee mermaids!
The other difficult thing to learn was how to stay underwater and breathe. They do not use regular scuba gear, which I am used to. There are long air hoses placed throughout the spring. The hoses have air pumped into them from inside the building. The mermaid has to turn it on and off when she is ready to take a breath. She puts the end of the hose into her mouth and takes a breath from the hose. It sounds easy but it is not! I tried it for a while but I had a lot of trouble with the air hose. So, I decided to do all my mermaid swimming in the shallow water and not bother with the air hose.
While I was in the spring with the other mermaids, I kept looking for my friends, the manatees. The spring is actually the start of the river. The water flows out from under the ground and becomes a river. The mermaids said that sometimes when the water in the rest of the Weeki Wachee River is too cold, the manatees swim all the way up the river to the spring where the mermaids do their show for the visitors to Weeki Wachee Springs. Sometimes manatees are a surprise part of the show!
The show is really unique because the audience sits in a special auditorium inside a building that has big glass windows that look out into the spring. The audience is actually below the surface of the water. The mermaid show is just outside those windows in the deep water of the spring.
One time when the mermaids were doing their show a manatee came and swam right in the middle of a circle three of the mermaids made with their bodies. They said that it is really fun when manatees are there because the manatees are very nice and playful.
Ms. Nicole Marino, one of the mermaids told us of some other wild animals that are in the spring. She said that one night some river otters came into the spring and played with the props for the show that they keep hidden underwater. The river otters made a big mess of everything and the mermaids had to dive down and clean it all up before the start of the first show.
Nicole also told us about a fish they have named "Jaws". It is a fresh water bass, the biggest and meanest bass around. During the mermaid show, the mermaids carry pieces of bread with them and feed the little fish in the spring. Sometimes Jaws rushes out and eats some of the little fish as they are distracted by the bread in the water. Jaws does this during the show right in front of the audience!
Wayne and I spent the whole day talking and swimming with the mermaids at Weeki Wachee. I guess if you can't be in the water with manatees, the next best things are mermaids.
|Manatee Fun Fact:
Manatees belong to a group of animals called Sirenia, which includes manatees, dugongs, and the stellar sea cow, which doesn't live anywhere any more. Sirenia gets its name from the word siren. Sirens are mermaids that lived long ago. The sirens would try to attract sailors to them by singing beautiful songs. The sailors would sail their ships too close to the rocks as they looked for the sirens. Then the ships would crash into the rocks. Do you think a manatee looks like a mermaid? Do you think the sailors saw mermaids or manatees?