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Published on Jun 7, 2009
A mermaid is a legendary aquatic creature with the upper body of a female human and the tail of a fish. Mermaids appear in the folklore of many cultures worldwide, including the Near East, Europe, Africa and Asia. The first stories appeared in ancient Assyria, in which the goddess Atargatis transformed herself into a mermaid out of shame for accidentally killing her human lover. Mermaids are sometimes associated with perilous events such as floods, storms, shipwrecks and drownings. In other folk traditions (or sometimes within the same tradition), they can be benevolent or beneficent, bestowing boons or falling in love with humans. Mermaids are associated with the mythological Greek sirens as well as with sirenia, a biological order comprising dugongs and manatees. Some of the historical sightings by sailors may have been misunderstood encounters with these aquatic mammals. Christopher Columbus reported seeing mermaids while exploring the Caribbean, and sightings have been reported in the 20th and 21st centuries in Canada, Israel and Zimbabwe. The U.S. National Ocean Service stated in 2012 that no evidence of mermaids has ever been found. Mermaids have been a popular subject of art and literature in recent centuries, such as in Hans Christian Andersen's well-known fairy tale "The Little Mermaid" (1836). They have subsequently been depicted in operas, paintings, books, films and comics.
The word mermaid is a compound of the Old English mere (sea), and maid (a girl or young woman). The equivalent term in Old English was merewif. They are conventionally depicted as beautiful with long flowing hair. As cited above, they are sometimes equated with the sirens of Greek mythology (especially the Odyssey), half-bird femme fatales whose enchanting voices would lure soon-to-be-shipwrecked sailors to nearby rocks, sandbars or shoals.
Sirenia is an order of fully aquatic, herbivorous mammals that inhabit rivers, estuaries, coastal marine waters, swamps and marine wetlands. Sirenians, including manatees and dugongs, possess major aquatic adaptations: arms used for steering, a paddle used for propulsion, and remnants of hind limbs (legs) in the form of two small bones floating deep in the muscle. They look ponderous and clumsy but are actually fusiform, hydrodynamic and highly muscular, and mariners before the mid-nineteenth century referred to them as mermaids
Sirenomelia, also called "mermaid syndrome", is a rare congenital disorder in which a child is born with his or her legs fused together and small genitalia. This condition is about as rare as conjoined twins, affecting one out of every 100,000 live births and is usually fatal within a day or two of birth because of kidney and bladder complications. Four survivors were known as of July 2003.
Raw Russian Newscast finds a new mermaid in Greenland and Norwegian Seas