Manatees swimming in Blue Springs State Park. Christopher Columbus and his crew thought that manatees were mermaids!
Manatees are not what humans would consider pretty. Sometimes referred to as “sea cows,” these creatures can grow up to 13 feet long and weight as much as 1,300 pounds!
How could anyone think these were mermaids? Ask Christopher Columbus. While sailing near the Dominican Republic in 1493, his crew reported seeing three mermaids, though they were “not as pretty as they are depicted, for somehow in the face they look like men.”
It’s perhaps a small consolation that they didn’t think they were female faces, but the fact that the men thought manatees looked like humans at all is a head scratcher. John Smith (think Pocahontas) reported seeing mermaids as well the first time he saw a manatee. He, unlike the men with Columbus, described them as “by no means unattractive.”
These weren’t the only times this happened, however. Manatees and the similar looking dugongs are the most likely origin for the myth. It’s not so surprising that sailors who have grown up hearing stories of mermaids might think they saw one.