This is the scene Animal Planet used to convince viewers of their pseudocumentary that mermaids could be real. Actors, wearing what look suspiciously like costumes left over from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, portrayed our ape ancestors apparently making conscious choices regarding evolution for Animal Planet's Mermaids: The Body Found. This was convincing enough to prompt some to demand the Truth from The National Ocean service, who disappointingly released a statement saying: "No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found"
When I saw this 'documentary' advertised I sought it out in the vain hope it discussed the history of sailors and their complicated relationships with manatees (they're not mermaids but they've got hips that just won't quit. If you squint a bit). Or a discussion about the older, far lewder, mythical mermaids who had split tails and no qualms. Which is probably why their image is now the Starbucks logo.
Much more interesting than conspiracy theories or faux science in which aquatic apes "come on land to bask and give birth" before diving back to stroke dolphins, their underwater allies (no, really) are the mermaid myths. The first known story about a mermaid has been traced back to 1000 BC.
The tale of Atargatis has a few versions but the one that probably sparked the age old idea that a mermaid is a man's doom is this. The goddess Atargatis fell in love with a human shepherd. Somehow she accidentally killed him, I can't find how, I suppose these things happen. Atargatis's guilt caused her to fling herself into the sea intending to become a fish. Her beauty was too great to get gilled up and only her lower half was transformed into a fish tail.
To the seafaring English mermaids have long been considered bad omens. Reports of mermaids taking the trouble to swim up rivers to kill the Laird of Lorntiebe, only to be thwarted by his servant, have probably been greatly exaggerated. In China mermaids are dimwitted and smell of happiness.
Because some ancient images of mermaids depict them as having legs it has been suggested some eye witness accounts were not the witterings of sex starved sailors but sightings of Ama. The Ama divers were women who dived off the coast of Japan for oyster pearls and shellfish. They usually dived naked or with just a loin cloth. Ama divers can withstand the cold sea where we would develop hypothermia, they also train themselves to hold their breath for a huge amount of time. When they rise to the surface they hyperventilate to reintroduce oxygen into their system, which could have been mistaken for a siren song.
Nobody wants mermaids to be real more than those who watched Disney's The Little Mermaid as children. My sister and I spent many a happy bath-time singing this (we weren't too hot on recalling lyrics and anyway that's the pivotal part of the story) to each other. But this is on the condition they are redhaired and fashion clam shells into modest nipple covers.
For those almost overwhelmed with disappointment here are some implausible looking but real sea creatures...
The Blob fish - A fish that looks like a jaded blob
Hand fish - fish with hands.
Ocean Sunfish - Look I can't explain why, it has such an unthreatening name but I find the Ocean Sunfish very frightening.
Ogre fish! - Ogres!