Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

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Wednesday 1 August 2012


Medieval bestiary engraving of merman and mermaid

Since the very earliest times, stories of merfolk or merbeings - sea-dwelling entities with the upper bodies of humans and the tails of fishes - have been reported by maritime travellers. Such accounts have been traditionally dismissed as nothing more than quaint folklore, and in some cases this is unquestionably true. Various others are simple misidentifications of seals or sirenians (manatees and dugongs.

Semi-humorous 19th-Century engraving of a manatee and a mermaid
Equally, most accounts of preserved mermaid specimens are based upon skilfully prepared hoaxes (gaffs), usually featuring the head and body of a monkey deftly attached to the tail of a large fish - not so much folk with fins as fakes with fins. These extraordinary entities are typifed by American circus impresario Phineas T. Barnum's infamous 'Feejee Mermaid', exhibited by him at Broadway'sConcert Hall on 1842:

Engraving of Barnum's 'Feejee Mermaid'

as well as by the excellent, highly impressive modern-day faux mermaid prepared specially for me by expert movie model-maker Alan Friswell - thanks Al!

My very own genuine fake mermaid! (Dr Karl Shuker)
However, there are also certain other cases on record that cannot be readily discounted as either folktales or frauds, as demonstrated by the following highly intriguing selection of thought-provoking, still-unresolved examples.


If merfolk exist, then they must surely fall prey at times to some of the seas' greatest predators - the sharks. One little-known case on file not only supports such a possibility but may also provide an insight into merfolk morphology. The creature in question was discovered inside the stomach of a shark caught on the northwest coast of Iceland, and was closely observed by the priest of Ottrardale. His description was quoted in a 19th-Century book by Sabine Baring-Gould called Iceland, Its Scenes and Sagas, and reads as follows:

"The lower part of the animal was entirely eaten away, whilst the upper part, from the epigastric and hypogastric region, was in some places partially eaten, in others completely devoured. The sternum, or breast-bone, was perfect. This animal appeared to be about the size of a boy eight or nine years old, and its head was formed like that of a man. The anterior surface of the occiput was very protuberant, and the nape of the neck had a considerable indentation or sinking. The alae [lobes] of the ears were very large, and extended a good way back. It had front teeth, which were long and pointed, as were also the larger teeth. The eyes were lustreless, and resembled those of a codfish. It had on its head long black, coarse hair, very similar to the fucus filiformis [filamentous seaweed]; this hair hung over the shoulders. Its forehead was large and round. The skin above the eyelids was much wrinkled, scanty, and of a bright olive colour, which was indeed the hue of the whole body. The chin was cloven, the shoulders were high, and the neck uncommonly short. The arms were of their natural size, and each hand had a thumb and four fingers covered with flesh. Its breast was formed exactly like that of a man, and there was also to be seen something like nipples; the back was also like that of a man. It had very cartilaginous ribs; and in parts where the skin had been rubbed off, a black, coarse flesh was perceptible, very similar to that of the seal. This animal, after having been exposed about a week on the shore, was again thrown into the sea."

'Swamp Dweller' merman painting (Jade Gengko)


During the 1800s, six fishermen acquainted with naturalist Dr Robert Hamilton were fishing off the island of Yell, one of the Shetland Islands north of Scotland, when they captured a decidedly monkey-like mermaid, which had become entangled in their lines:

"The animal was about three feet long, the upper part of the body resembling the human, with protuberant mammae, like a woman; the face, the forehead, and neck were short, and resembling those of a monkey; the arms, which were small, were kept folded across the breast; the fingers were distinct, not webbed; a few stiff, long bristles were on the top of the head, extending down to the shoulders, and these it could erect and depress at pleasure, something like a crest. The inferior part of the body was like a fish. The skin was smooth, and of a grey colour. It offered no resistance, nor attempted to bite, but uttered a low, plaintive sound. The crew, six in number, took it within their boat; but superstition getting the better of curiosity, they carefully disentangled it from the lines and from a hook which had accidentally fastened in its body, and returned it to its native element. It instantly dived, descending in a perpendicular direction."
Mermaid painting (Warwick Goble)


The following reports have previously received little if any mainstream attention, so I am especially indebted to American cryptozoological author Michael Newton for passing them on to me.

The first of these was published by the Daily Kennebec Journal newspaper of Augusta, Maine, on 24 June 1873. The most pertinent section reads as follows:

"About the same time [c.1737] a story came from Virgo, in Spain, to the effect that some fishermen on that coast had caught a sort of a merman, five feet and a half from head to foot. The head was like that of a goat, with a long beard and moustache, a black skin, somewhat hairy, a very long neck, short arms, hands longer than they ought to be in proportion, and long fingers, with nails like claws; webbed toes, and a fin at the lower part of the back."

Interestingly, an engraving of a weird goat-headed merbeing, variously dubbed a sea-Pan, sea-satyr, or sea-devil, based upon a skeleton and some mummified exhibits, appeared in the second edition of Conrad Gesner’s Historiae Animalium Liber IV. Qui est de Piscium et Aquatilium Animantium Natura (1604). Allegedly, it had been fatally wounded by stones thrown at it by some sailors who had witnessed it throwing itself out of the Illyrian Sea onto the shore in an attempt to capture a small child there. This must surely have been another cleverly-constructed fraud.

Gesner’s goat-headed merbeing

Continuing the Daily Kennebec Journal article:

"The magazines for 1775 gave an account of a mermaid which was captured in the Levant and brought to London. One of the learned periodicals gravely told its readers that the mermaid had the complexion and features of a European, like those of a young woman; that the eyes were light blue, the nose small and elegantly formed, the mouth small, the lips thin, "but the edges round like those of a codfish; that the teeth were small, regular and white; that the neck was well rounded, and that the ears were like those of an eel, but placed like those on the human specie [sic], with gills for respiration, which appear like cork." There was no hair on the head, but "rolls...” There was a fin rising pyramidally from the temples, "forming a foretop, like that of a lady's headdress." ["]The bust was nearly like that of a young damsel, a proper orthodox mermaiden, but, alas! all below the waste was exactly like a fish! Three sets of fins below the waist, one above the other, enabled her to swim. Finally it is said to have an enchanting voice, which it never exerts except before a storm." The writer in the Annual Register probably did not see this mermaid, which the Gentleman's Magazine described as being only three feet high. It was afterward proved to be a cheat, made from the skull of the angle [angel] shark.

"A Welsh farmer, named Reynolds, living at Pen-y-hold in 1782, saw a something which he appears to have believed to be a mermaid; he told the story to Dr. George Phillips, who told it to Mrs. Moore, who told it to a young lady pupil of hers, who wrote out an account of it to Mrs. Morgan, who inserted it in her "Tour to Milford Haven." How much...[it] gained on its travels - like the Three Black Crows or the parlor game of Russian Scandal - we are left to find out for ourselves; but its ultimate form was nearly as follows: One morning, just outside the cliff, Reynolds saw what seemed to him to be a person bathing in the sea, with the upper part of the body out of the water. On nearer view, it looked like the upper part of a person in a tub, a youth, say of sixteen or eighteen years of age, with nice white skin!, a sort of brownish body, and a tail was under the water. The head and body were human in form, but the arms and hands thick in proportion to length, while the nose, seeming up high between the eyes, terminated rather sharply. The mysterious being looked attentively at Reynolds, and at the cliffs, and at the birds flying in the air, with a wild gaze, but uttered no...[sound]. Reynolds went to bring some companions to see the merman or mermaid, but when he returned it had disappeared. If we like to suppose that Reynolds had seen some kind of seal, and that the narration had grown to something else by repeating freely mouth to mouth, perhaps we shall not be very far wrong."

Mermaid painting by John Waterhouse

Also of interest is the following report, published by the Cape Brooklyn Eagle newspaper on 22 August 1886:

"The fishermen of Gabarus, Cape Breton [an island off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada], have been excited over the appearances of a mermaid, seen in the waters by some fishermen a few days ago. While Mr. Bagnall, accompanied by several fishermen, was out in a boat, they observed floating on the surface of the water a few yards from the boat what they supposed to be a corpse. Approaching it for the purpose of taking it ashore, they observed it to move, when to their great surprise, it turned around in a sitting position and looked at them and disappeared. A few moments after[,] it appeared on the surface and again looked toward them, after which it disappeared altogether. The face, head, shoulders and arms resembled those of a human being, but the lower extremities had the appearance of a fish. The back of its head was covered with long, dark hair resembling a horse's mane. The arms were shaped like a human being's, except that the fingers of one hand were very long. The color of the skin was not unlike that of a human being. There is no doubt, that the mysterious stranger is what is known as a mermaid, and the first one ever seen in Cape Breton waters."
Were it not for the mention of fingers, I would be inclined to identify this particularly hirsute merbeing as a seal, quite probably a fur seal. Could it be that there is an unknown species of seal with a foreshortened muzzle, rendering its face superficially humanoid, and with flippers in which the digits are more prominently revealed than in other seals? Such a species would correspond closely with a number of noteworthy merbeing reports.

Seal in upright mermaid posture (L. Heafner)
Finally: On 3 November 1896, the Cape Brooklyn Eagle published another noteworthy merbeing report:

"Seattle, Wash., November 3 - A party of Englishmen who have been porpoise fishing in the Pacific discovered and killed a monster that resembled a merman. The party was off the island of Watmoff on the hunting boat and Lord Devonshire, one of the fishers, had just shot a porpoise, when some one called out, "Look there!" pointing to a frightful looking monster about a cable's length away. Hastily raising his weapon his lordship fired and hit the creature between the eyes. The shot, though it did not kill it, so stunned the animal that it lay perfectly still on the surface of the sea.

"It showed fight when hauled into the boat and had to be killed to prevent it from swamping the craft. The monster is said to be one of the strangest freaks ever put together. It measures 10 feet from its nose to the end of its fluke shaped tail and the girth of its human shaped body was just six feet. It would weigh close to 500 pounds. From about the breast bone to a point at the base of the stomach it looked like a man. Its arms, quite human in shape and form, are very long and covered completely with long, coarse, dark reddish hair, as is the whole body.

"It had, or did have, at one time four fingers and a thumb on each hand, almost human in shape, except that in place of finger nails there were long, slender claws. But in days probably long since gone by, it had evidently fought some monster that had got the best of it, for the forefinger of the right hand, the little finger of the left and the left thumb are missing entirely. Immediately under the right breast is a broad, ugly looking scar which looked as if sometime in the past it had been inflicted by a swordfish. The creature is now being preserved in ice at Seattle and will be shipped to the British museum."

Merman (triton) sculpture in the Piazza Navona, Rome (Dr Karl Shuker)
As I feel sure that the scientific world would have heard more about this entity had it indeed reached the British Museum, I am assuming that it was never shipped there after all. In June 2008, I sent details concerning this fascinating case to Mandy Holloway in the Department of Zoology at London's Natural History Museum, who very kindly promised to pursue the matter for me through the museum’s archives – just in case! However, no trace of any merman was found. Ah well, at least we tried!


Created for untold centuries by the San hunter-gatherer people, the rock paintings in the Karoo, South Africa, depict some remarkable entities, but none more so than certain ones bearing a striking resemblance to mermaids! Seeking to provide a rational scientific explanation for them after the discovery of some additional examples in Ezeljachtpoort (again in the Karoo) was made public during 1998, anthropologists have suggested that they either portray departed spirits (a dominant theme in San society) or represent the hallucinogenic experience of San shamans. According to one elderly San man interviewed by the paintings’ researchers, however, they depict bona fide water maidens, and even today such beings are indeed reported quite frequently in this African region.

San rock-art mermaids in the Karoo (travel.iafrica.com)


In July 1960, eminent British scientist Professor Sir Alister Hardy FRS published a highly thought-provoking hypothesis in New Scientist - speculating that instead of evolving from upright plains-dwelling ancestors, man learned to stand erect by having descended from aquatic ape-like forms. This startling idea has since been pursued in great detail by researcher Elaine Morgan in The Aquatic Ape (1982) and later books, and has provoked much dissension among scientists. I plan to assess this notion in detail within a future book. For now, therefore, let me just say that if it is indeed valid, it has great bearing upon the question of mermaids and their kind.

Merfolk, or aquatic apes? (picture source unknown to me)

After all, if, while some of these water-dwelling ape-like primates did indeed become terrestrial and evolve into modern-day Homo sapiens, others remained in the sea - continuing to evolve and surviving into modern times but retaining their fully aquatic form -what would they be like today? Perhaps we already know the answer - and perhaps that answer already has a name: merfolk.

Fake but fabulous - a supposed mermaid skeleton (9gag.com)


  1. I have looked at this article but so far find no convincing evidence of mermaid existence. Maybe you should include the mermaid funeral from either The Unexplained or the Lost Ark (can't remember which, but both fantastic books for which the world thanks you) in an update. It got me believing in mermaids. I just wonder, how could the tail have evolved? Perhaps nereids are closer to true mermaids, and the tail was an invention of myth and exaggeration?

    All the best, the thinker

  2. There was a letter or an article in FATE magazine one time about some type of creature that sounded very much like a merman, that was encountered by Russian divers in the Black Sea, much to their surprise. I am doubtful that the Russians would have made such a story up, and there are legends from the Sumerians of people with fish-like tales. The description of the beings in the article matched that of the supposed mermaid that was featured on a recent Animal Planet program. While I am skeptical about the A.P. program as they have done hoaxes in the past, I cannot help but wonder if maybe this one was real. Time will tell.

  3. re Anonymous,

    Indeed, Animal Planet has released a mockumentary about the evolution and extinction of dragons, so maybe you shouldn't trust everything they say. That said, I haven't heard the story on the Russians. Could you tell us more about it in your next post?

  4. Dude, the Animal Planet show was just a TV program......like the X-Files or something. Made up just for entertainment, much like their Lost Tapes series. Seriously, were you that dumb to believe it real?

  5. If you read it, you will find that this article of mine has nothing to do with the Animal Planet show! I am well aware that it was fiction, but the reports here are of genuine finds of strange creatures that some people believe may have been merfolk, but which were not preserved, so their identity remains a mystery - hence the question mark in my article's title.

  6. The Poodle Moth brought me to your blog and I've been happily trapped here for some time now.

    The merfolk pic is from Annie Leibovitz's Disney Dream Portrait series.

  7. @MicroJivvy - Thanks very much for letting me know the source of that beautiful illustration, and I'm delighted that my blog is of such interest and enjoyment to you! All the best, Karl

  8. Oh dear I wish I had never discovered this site. It's too,too interesting for words. I can't sit here all day. But Oh how I'd like to.
    thank you for a fascinating place!!!!!

  9. @Iceni - Thank you so much! Very glad to know that you like my blog so much! All the best, Karl

  10. Very interesting, most sightings were unknown to me. By the way, there is a grave of a young mermaid somewhere in rural Scotland. I've always been fascinated by this subject, partly because I saw a statue of a mermaid when I was a child. In the Crimea, my homeland on the Black Sea coast, there is an old Tatar legend of a young mermaid who fell in love with a man, then gave birth to a child, and so the famous statue of the Miskhor mermaid shows her holding a baby in her arms (see the image: http://countries.turistua.com/ru/krym/miskhor-gallery.htm?picture_id=6003). Here in Vancouver, I've come across two separate stories of mermaids seen in the Straight of Georgia: 1) a 19th c. newspaper account of a party of well-respected local residents who were out fishing just outside of Point Grey (near the present-day UBC campus) when they observed a mermaid with yellow hair and brown skin, she surfaced next to their boat; the article also mentions that a Native Indian who was with them in the boat told them it was a bad sign to see a mermaid as earlier another mermaid had been seen in the Squamish River where it enters Howe Sound and that Indian died shortly after; 2) perhaps the most well-known Canadian mermaid sighting when passengers of a BC Ferry saw a young mermaid sitting on some rocks in the Active Pass just outside Victoria, on Vancouver Island, she had the body of a porpoise from the waist down and was eating a salmon, that happened in 1967.

    Good luck!


  11. Further to the Disney merfolk pic (the penultimate pic in my article, whose source was initially unknown to me): I've now learnt from correspondent Andy Ross that the mermaid in that pic is none other than actress Julianne Moore, and the merman in the foreground is Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps. I'd thought that they seemed to look somewhat familiar - now I know why!! Here's a link provided by Andy that gives further details (thanks, Andy!): http://www.binarymoon.co.uk/2007/01/disney-ads/disney-little-mermaid-julianne-moore/

  12. http://www.cagliostro.se/in-english/the-poulet-island-mermaid-1034853

  13. The Cagliostro's Cabinet of Curiosities website that you've given above is one of the more ingenious spoof sites currently online, as I trust you're aware?

  14. I heard some people say that mermaids were created by ancient Atlantians who performed genetic experiments on different species. I find this hypothesis quite logical, even though it's kind of based on yet another one :) Because I don't see why nature would create mermaids...

    Hence, I'd like to say that, if people can, they should be nicer to mermaids. They could be the product of the human arrogant mind.

    It just gives me the creeps when I read on Wikipedia that some mermaid was beaten to death with sticks. I wouldn't do it any living being, unless perhaps it were the matter of life and death for me.

  15. I saw an interesting video about "Fish People" on Animal Planet website today. They were depicted in a cave in Egypt. Perhaps you would like to see it Mr. Shuker. Best regards.

  16. I'm sorry. I found out that mermaid depictions in Egypt have been made by CGI. Thanks producers of Lost Tapes!

  17. Karl,
    With regard to the Cape Brooklyn Eagle newspaper report of 22 August 1886 of fishermen from Cape Breton [an island off the coast of Nova Scotia) spotting a mysterious “merbeing. You wrote, “I would be inclined to identify this particularly hirsute merbeing as a seal, quite probably a fur seal.”
    Pretty sure you meant a true seal and not an eared one. There are no species of Otariidae in the North Atlantic. Moreover, no type of eared seal can maintain a vertical position while treading water. Only Phocidae, the true seals can and it is often called “bottling.” Most likely what they saw was a harbor seal.
    And what, no mention of Steller’s sea monkey? -;)

  18. Hi Chris, No, I did mean a fur seal. In reality, there is no KNOWN species of Otariidae in the North Atlantic, but the northern fur seal is common in the North Pacific, so it is not impossible that an occasional straggler might reach the North Atlantic via the Arctic Ocean. Also, its profuse fur and its foreshortened muzzle increase this species' similarity to the Cape Breton merbeing, which was only described as 'sitting' (whatever that meant), not specifically as raising itself vertically. I think that fishermen would recognise a harbour seal for what it was. Re Steller's sea monkey: I've never truly thought of that as a merbeing, but simply as an unusual pinniped.

  19. Wow! Heard a story about some mermaids comming ashore in israel, so I followed the story and decided to read up on mermaids...I have been on this site since last 9t! Some of the stories sounded bonafide, while some sounded far-fetched but it would realy be awesome if these creatures that have plagued both laymen and scientists were actualy in existence...don't ÿ̲̣̣̣̥​o̲̣̥​υ̲̣̥ think?

    1. The mermaid was seen in my city - Kiryat Yam in Israel :)

  20. Why is it when I read comments on sights like this, people always seem to say stuff like how or why would legs evolve into tails. Simple, because they didn't. If they do indeed exsist, then they would have been created that way from the start. The clue is in the title, The 'THEORY' of evolution and the big bang 'THEORY'. It's your choice of course what you choose to belive, but I believe in the bible personally and therefore I believe in creation, it make far more sense to me than evolution, which is full of holes. Anyway, most of the sea has never even been explored yet and new species are constantly being discovered. Let's face it, the government is pretty good at covering things up. I wouldn't necessarily say that I believe in aliens, but when I was three, I saw a UFO hovering on the spot high above my front garden when we came home late one night. It was round like a flying saucer, a silvery grey colour and had white lights round the edge. It just sat there in mid air, not moving. It made a humming sound, which reminded me of the noise a cement mixer lorry made when it was churning cement, obviously without the engine noise. It did scare me a little, but while I will never know exactly what it was or why it was there, I know what I saw. So who's to say people have't seen mermaids for real. I really don't believe that you could mistake a seal or manatee for a mermaid though, that just sounds rediculous!

  21. This is absolutely beautiful. I am EXTREMELY interested in these kinds of articles. Thank you.

  22. This is fascinating. I am extremely interested in articles similar to this so I love it.

  23. Although I've never seen a mermaid, I know two people who swear they did. My late uncle by marriage saw one in Jamaica when he was eight years old and my grandmother saw one as a teen. She was with other people at the time, so there were witnesses. And seeing as I've witnessed many strange things in my life, the last thing I'm gonna do is discredit the 'theory' of mermaids. The oceans are vast and we have yet to explore them with the same enthusiasm we have for space travel.

  24. Hi Tina, I was fascinated to learn of your relatives' sightings. Could you give any details re them? You can post them here, or, if you prefer, you can email them to me privately at karlshuker@aol.com as I'd love to know more about them. All the best, Karl

  25. Great Content.I have appreciate with getting lot of good and reliable information with your post.......
    Thanks for sharing such kind of nice and wonderful collection......again, beautiful :) I love reading your posts. They make me happy .
    See real mermaid videos,mermaid video VISIT HERE http://realmermaidvideos.com/the-evolution-of-mermaids/

  26. And what if we all were amphibious?

  27. Hi guys, Based on evolution, It is a given that we humans have derived from apes. Its also a given that only humans have the ability to evolve in a way like no other creature/animal on earth. It is also known that our DNA has been altered so that we have the ability to think, understand and aquire knowledge. With this being said, A hypothesis can be made that Apes have been test samples to some superior being with advanced knowledge. in ancient times, drawings by the egyptions depict drawing of half man and bird-like creatures. They dont exist today?, A hindu god(Ganesha) is depicted with a head of an elephant and humanoid body..If these depictions were possible thousands of years ago, It has been based on what somebody has seen, There are even cave paintings of mermaid-like creatures. If a man-fish creature had been created, The enviroment they will belong in is water, Because water occupies 74+ of the earths surface, If mermaids do exist, It wouldnt be difficult to hide themselves as they would be an extremely small population.. Many theories can be built about these life forms but nothing solid can be built. According to documentaries, When US navy tested out a sonar blast underwater in 2004/2005, Whales have washed up at southern austrailia beaches as well as as few unidentifed creatures.. Which appeared to be mermaids. The truth is that officials will cover up the events and make the public believe what they(officials) want them to believe. likewise with alien theories. The fact is that humans are scared, Scared to accept that we are not the only intelligent life forms that exist in this universe...

  28. The next to last photo, Mermaids or aquatic apes, is from a Leibowitz/Disney photo collaboration. The Mermaid is Julianne Moore, as the MerMan is Michael Phelps(Olympic Gold MEdal swimmer)

  29. Just wondering why the skull of this supposed mermaid looks nothing like any other skull of supposed mermaid carcasses.