There is now only 1 species in this family, the other member, Steller’s sea cow, having been exterminated in the 18th century by excessive hunting, only 25 years after its discovery. Myths in the Museum: The Dugong and the Mermaid. We all know who he is, Jermaine Jackson, needs no introduction. They protect and preserve marine life. Where marine mammals are concerned, the dugong is marginalised by the easier-to-observe whale and dolphin. September 2013. Apart from these factors, the dugong is a slow breeder, because the suckling of its young is a lengthy process. The Life Cycle of a Dugong Dugongs can live until they are seventy years old. The Viceroy's physician who dissected the carcasses in Goa is quoted as having pronounced their internal structure to be "in all respects conformable to the human". Around 1000 BC in Assyria, Atargatis mistakenly killed her lover, a shepherd. Myth Stories about Mermaids. The manatee—along with its Pacific Ocean counterpart, the dugong—comes from the order sirenia. 8. The Indonesian legend of the sea mermaid originates from Syria. We’re Finalists for a Science Journalism Award! This taboo is based on a legend of a woman, who jumps into the sea and changes into a dugong. The way that dugongs rest, with their heads above the waves, may have been the inspiration for the myth of the mermaid. And these ‘Japanese mermaids’ continue to captivate our interest into the present day, not only out of curiosity but for science and conservation studies; researchers at the nearby Wellcome Collection recently investigated what two of these cleverly constructed specimens (long assumed to be a monkey head sewn to a fish body) are actually made of. The dugong is an aquatic animal and has a tail like a mermaid. Since then, people of the two tribes have refrained from eating dugong. Closely linked with the mermaid myth, these alert, shy and curious creatures can live up to 70 years. They also possess a dolphin fluke-like tail. For you see mermaids are listed in mythology while manatees and dugongs are known and documented creatures of the sea. September 2013. Sri Lanka cannot afford to lose the dugong, â€¨the mermaid of the Gulf of MannarSo perfectly located are these openings that no other part of either the head or body breaks the water's surface when a surreptitious breath is taken. And yet the mermaid is not recognized formally as a true marine creature. What is a Dugong? ... We believed that dugong was once a human, according to the legend." (Credit: The Mariners’ Museum). They also have natural predators, such as sharks and crocodiles. The dugong and the manatee are related to the myth of sirens, enough to be classified in the order of Sirenians (or Sirenidae). So next time you’re at the Grant Museum, take a look at the dugong skeleton. The dugong is said to be the origin of the mermaid myth. NG Live! Unlike their Western counterparts, the Japanese ningyo, in general, are much less attractive. Dugongidae: Dugong Family. Today it is confined in exceedingly small numbers to restricted areas in a range that spans the waters of 37 countries throughout the Indo-Pacific region, including â€¨Sri Lanka's Gulf of Mannar. She was so ashamed that she jumped into a lake to transform in a fish. A recent study in Nature has discovered how genetically distinct this prehistoric carnivore actually was. Dugong is derived from the Malay name for the animal, duyong, meaning "lady of the sea". I have known stray specimens to be caught about Dondra and Matara.". It was a scene of breathless beauty, a glory of the firmament that whispered to the heart of man: It is God.". Like their close kin the manatees, dugongs belong to the order Sirenia, whose members have long inspired mermaid myths across the globe. Yes, manatees and dugongs are scientific genus called "sirenia". Around the world, dugongs have been hunted to near extinction. Mermaids have often been mentioned in legends and folklore stories, each giving an individual twist to the identity and characteristics of the organism. Though common today as a dance in its own right... Over the tranquil sea of the Gulf of Mannar the morning breeze blew fresh. One of these specimens "lived four days and seven hours, but refusing all food, died without leaving any intelligible account of herself". The dugong, or ia tekwa in the Lau language, is a taboo animal for the people of Bailangi and Buni tribes. Her first depiction of a half human-half fish creature, Myths in the Museum: Horseshoe Crabs, Blue Blood, and Modern Medicine | UCL Researchers in Museums, EPISODE 13: Riot Girls at Sea – Zero Percent Scared, Stress: Approaches to the First World War. In the 18th and 19th centuries, mermaid specimens held a particular grip on Western popular imagination. As Rita Dal Martello has written on our blog before, dugongs and manatees both belong to the animal genus Sirenia, and share the common name ‘sea cow’. The IUCN lists the dugong as vulnerable, as it is extinct or declining in at least one-third of its range. Ask Question Log in. Subsequently, the existence of a sea creature with the aspect of a woman was recorded by Megasthenes, a Macedonian ambassador to India soon after Alexander's death. There’s a 2.7-meter-long skeleton of a big underwater creature in the Grant Museum of Zoology, right when you enter the main room. The first depiction of a half human-half fish creature is thought to be of the Babylonian water god Oannes as far back as 5000 BCE. With most of our blue planet covered by water, it's little wonder that, centuries ago, the oceans were believed to hide mysterious creatures including sea serpents and mermaids. I’ve always heard that manatees and dugongs were the source of the siren and mermaid myths. To imagine them as sensual lithe mermaids is a great exercise if you come face to face with a dugong! The answer, it turns out, is stuffed papier-mache, wire, fish teeth, scales, carved bone and wood! In addition to the numerous species of fish - including sharks and stingrays - turtles, and an array of dolphins and whales, there is the intriguing, myth-laden, and highly endangered dugong, sadly an almost forgotten creature among Sri Lanka's fauna. There is a theory that mermaid legends came about as a result of (presumably very drunk and very lonely) sailors mistaking manatees or dugongs (salt-water relatives of manatees) for attractive women with fish tails. The tropical, sheltered waters provide a highly desirable habitat for a number of marine creatures, making it one of the richest coastal regions in Asia. Now I just heard on TV (the Spike show "MANswers, not the most reliable of sources, perhaps) that the female dugong has genital… These shy and endangered marine mammals are thought by some to be the inspiration for the mermaid myth and can be found in the whole Indo-Pacific region. The myth of sirens, which goes back to the civilization of ancient Greece, is as much aged as dugongs are, of which remains dating from 6000 years ago have been found. Sri Lanka cannot afford to lose the dugong, the mermaid of the Gulf of Mannar. Females don’t … And yet the mermaid is not recognized formally as a true marine creature. But that's exactly what dugongs were once mistaken for, according to … The Myth of the Mermaids The word ‘Dugong’ is derived from the Malay word for the animal ‘Duyung’ which means ‘lady of the sea’ or ‘mermaid’. Dugongs mostly feed at night, especially in areas where there is human interference with their activities. Now I just heard on TV (the Spike show "MANswers, not the most reliable of sources, perhaps) that the female dugong has genitals most similar to the human female, and they either implied or said outright that sailors would doink them. It is termed thus due to its propensity to eat sea-grass - in the Gulf of Mannar the underwater pastures of the genus Cymodocea. The manatee might not have fooled some sharper-eyed sailors, and it probably wasn't the reason that mermaid legends (in general) were born. While manatees can be very graceful in the water, they typically weigh in at over 1000 pounds and their faces are not easy to mistake for a woman’s face. Several months ago my daughter asked me what I considered a very unusual question. ...It is not surprising that early mariners who caught a glimpse of this strange creature began to speculate on its identityThe mermaid, a beautiful girl to her waist but a fish from the waist down, and her male counterpart, the merman, are still among the most popular of legendary creatures, especially in Northern Europe. The equivalent term in Old English was merewif. As the animal dives, the nostrils close automatically, and it can remain submerged for upwards of five minutes. Nevertheless, there are also ningyo which bear even less resemblance to the mermaids of the West. The most likely explanation for those mermaid sightings reported by sailors both past and present is confusion with other marine creatures, specifically, the manatee or dugong. The mammary glands of females in the Sirenia genus are located on their upper bodies near their armpits, which are likely to have contributed to the reported ‘mermaid’ sightings of explorers and sailors. Another Dutch chaplain, Baldaeus, was more down-to-earth when he wrote in 1703: "They have a peculiar fish (probably a sea-calf) of an amphibious nature; the females have breasts and give suck, and the flesh, when well-boiled, tastes not unlike our sturgeon, and might easily be mistaken for veal. Some have supposed them to be devils or spirits in regard to the whooping noise that they make.". An entity born from the imagination of man, it is but a legend. On my first Saturday shift as a PhD museum engager, a 7-year-old boy stopped to point and ask his mom what this monster was, and why it had hands. The dugong is a truly remarkable animal, yet awareness of its basic characteristics, and even existence in Sri Lankan waters, is badly lacking amongst both the local population and visitors. Henry Wellcome (1853-1936), whose massive collection has been distributed over the years to various museums including our own Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, saw mermaids worth purchasing for their anthropological value; his two specimens are now housed in the Science Museum over in South Kensington, and in the Buxton Museum. Mermaids of Asia: Dugongs, Dragon Wives and the Deep ... co-author of The Origins of the Mermaid Myth, points out, a Dutch seaman called Hamel … ... Lots of mermaid folk tales and myths say they are, and others don't. Famously featured in George R.R. Since the lower part of her body resembles a fish, Atargatis is often referred to as a mermaid goddess. Photographer Brian Skerry reveals the creatures once believed to be mermaids. In the case of one such myth—the presence of mermaids—the story of how the legend came to be is almost as interesting as the myth itself! Pliny the Elder dedicated an entire chapter of his 1st century book The Natural History to write on the forms of tritons and nereids, describing that “in them, the portion of the body that resembles the human figure is still rough all over with scales.” In the pacific island nation of Palau, where a 3,000-year-old cave drawing of dugongs was found, legends of young women transforming into sea creatures have been passed down over the years; the word dugong, in fact, derives from Malay for ‘lady of the sea’. In addition to the Gulf, the dugong once populated the Island's east coast as Hugh Nevill notes in his journal, The Taprobanian (1885): "Off Batticaloa it is reported by fishermen to live permanently towards Vandeloos Bay, and it is occasionally caught in the outlet of the Batticaloa Lake. The Truth And The Myth About Mermaid. The idea of mermaid-like creatures might not have totally originated with manatees; it could just be that manatees -- when spotted -- fit the bill. : The Mermaid Myth. The siren is a distinct classification of aquatic sea life with special characteristics and all of the characteristics are a direct parallel of the mermaid. ^ Muller, P. L. S., 1776. As with elephants the dugong's longevity is remarkable: the oldest recorded specimen reached the age of 73. The siren is a distinct classification of aquatic sea life with special characteristics and all of the characteristics are a direct parallel of the mermaid. Valentyn, a Dutch chaplain, gives detailed descriptions of them in his account of the Netherlands Possessions in the Indian Subcontinent (1727). 0 1 2 ... Dugongs are thought to have started the myths of mermaids. During the day, the dugong remains some distance out to sea, resting and keeping a watchful eye open for danger. Dugongs are slimmer than their cousins, but this is relative — they still can grow to 3 meters in length and weigh up to a whopping 1000 kg! Mermaid myth stems from dumpy dugong. A lesser known cousin of the manatee, the dugong (Malay for “lady of the sea”) is said to have inspired ancient mermaid legends. William Bond, co-author of The Origins of the Mermaid Myth, points out, a Dutch seaman called Hamel aboard the Sperwer was shipwrecked near … They are conventionally depicted as beautiful with long flowing hair. skin very white, and long haire hanging downe behind of colour The Evening Independent, 30 March 1984, pp. The drastic reduction in the range of the dugong, as well as its uncertain survival as a species, is due mainly to its vulnerability.