Mermaids are mythical sea creatures with the upper body of a female human and the tail of a fish. Their male counterparts are called mermen. A mermaid’s demeanor ranges from seductive to sinister, depending on the legend. These creatures have been a part of sea lore since man began sailing the oceans. Tales of mermaids first appeared as long ago as the time of ancient Assyria—the Assyrian goddess Atargatis transformed herself into a mermaid out of shame for unintentionally committing murder. Images of the ancient Philistine god Dagon (1 Samuel 5:2) could easily pass for modern conceptualizations of a merman. Mermaids are also associated with Sirens in Greek mythology, specifically in Homer’s The Odyssey. Ancient Far East folklore depicts mermaids as the wives of powerful sea-dragons. In more recent history, Hans Christian Andersen’s popular fairy tale “The Little Mermaid” (1836) sparked depictions of mermaids in opera, art, literature, and movies.
Written accounts of sightings by sailors abound. Even Christopher Columbus documented seeing mermaids while exploring the Caribbean. It is commonly believed that these sightings were actually misinterpreted encounters with aquatic mammals such as manatees and dugongs. A lonely or love-starved sailor, stuck at sea for months on end, may have, after witnessing a broad tail with no dorsal fin disappearing under the waves, conceivably put the rest of the pieces together in his mind to construct a mermaid.
Throughout the centuries, hoaxes have been presented to prove the existence of mermaids. Notably, P. T. Barnum displayed a stuffed “Fiji mermaid” in his museum. Other hoaxes utilized papier-mâché or parts of various animals stitched together. In 2004, Internet photos of “Fiji mermaids,” which surfaced in the wake of the South Asian tsunami, were no more real than Barnum’s exhibit.
The Bible never mentions mermaids, not even the biblical creation account in Genesis 1–2, but this neither proves nor disproves the existence of mermaids. There are many creatures in the world which are not mentioned in the Bible, and universal negatives can be difficult to prove.
In July 2012 the National Ocean Service (NOS) issued a statement that “no evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found.” This statement was in response to public inquiries following a pseudoscientific documentary on mermaids which aired in May 2012 on Animal Planet. Similar to the reaction to Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds radio broadcast in 1938, a great number of people had mistaken the fictional film for a factual documentary.
One problem with the idea of the existence of mermen and mermaids is theological. We know that Christ died for humanity: “the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared” (Titus 3:4, NASB). If there do exist sentient, non-human humanoids in this world, they, too, have been affected by the curse of sin (Romans 8:22). But God the Son did not become a merman to redeem a race of half-human sea creatures; He became a human to redeem the human race (Hebrews 2:14). This would seem to rule out the existence of mermen, unless they are more fish than human.
Whether or not mermaids exist, we praise God for His many wonderful creations. God made the universe (Genesis 1:1) and everything in it (Acts 17:24), including all the creatures under the sea (Genesis 1:20-23).