Ask A Scientist

“Do mermaids exist?”

Asked by: Alexandra Yarosh
School: Clayton Avenue Elementary, Vestal School District
Grade: 1
Teacher: Mrs. Lilley
Hobbies/Interests: Drawing, bowling, playing at the playground and board games
Career Interest: Artist and a mom

Answer from Steve Rebello

Math/Science Academic Counselor

Before Binghamton University: Taught grade school physical science and biology in Johnson City School District and high school biology and physics in the Upward Bound program at Binghamton University. 
Graduate School Research Area: Mycology, Phylgenetics
Family: Wife, Emily - 5th grade teacher in Union-Endicott School District and son, Brayden
Interests/hobbies: Photography, camping, skiing, snowboarding and teaching

When animals from two different species are combined, the result is called a hybrid. Although this is a rarity in nature, scientists have experimented combining animals from various species to create new hybrids. For example, a mule is a cross between a horse and a donkey, whereas a liger is a cross between a lion and a tiger. 

Throughout history, people have imagined creatures that are part human and part animal. Mermaids are just one of many mythological humanoids. The sphinx and centaurs are other well-known examples. The idea of a mermaid, a human and fish hybrid, has been around for quite some time. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), mermaids first appeared cave paintings during the Stone Age, 30,000 years ago. Since then, there have been countless reports of mermaid sightings. Were these sighting simply cases of imaginations running wild?

The producers of the televisions series, "Mermaids: The Body Found" featured on Animal Planet, seem to think there could be some truth to the reports. The depths of the ocean are less explored that the surface of the moon and the new species are being discovered each year. The TV series explored a controversial evolutionary theory known as the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis coined by marine biologist, Alister Hardy in 1960. This theory supports the possibility that mermaids could exist, stating that humans spent a period of time evolving in a wet environment. If this were true, there could have also been an evolutionary branch of primates that stayed in the aquatic environment and eventually evolved into mermaids. The Animal Planet series also referenced an incident that happened in 1997 when NOAA discovered something called the "Bloop." This was a loud sound coming from the depths of the oceans that experts concluded was likely made by some type of animal unlike any whale, dolphin or other aquatic animal on record. All of these facts support the idea that mermaids could exist.

Although the TV series draws on some scientifically sound information, much of the content is fictional. Even the scientists on the show are actors portraing NOAA officials. According to NOAA, since scientists have started exploring the depths of the oceans, they have not found any concrete evidence to support the existence of mermaids.

Is it possible that mermaids exist? Yes. Is it probable? No. 

Last Updated: 9/18/13