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How did sailors imagine seeing mermaids? Ghostly image from NOAA offers explanation

A deep sea photo taken off the East Coast by NOAA researchers is providing ample proof of why mariners once confused squids for mermaids.
A deep sea photo taken off the East Coast by NOAA researchers is providing ample proof of why mariners once confused squids for mermaids. NOAA photo

A deep sea photo taken off the East Coast by NOAA researchers is providing ample proof of why it was easy for mariners of yore to confuse sea creatures for mermaids.

The image, posted last week on Facebook, shows a “lurking” human-like shape that appears to have arms, legs and a Medusa-like head of hair. It was photographed “creeping” above a remotely operated deep sea vehicle that was exploring a steep slope or escarpment earlier this summer.

NOAA identified the transparent shape as a deep-sea squid and reported it was spotted 2,838 feet down in an area known as the Central Blake Plateau Scarp, off northeast Florida.

“Ever get the feeling you’re being watched?” asked the post.

The National Museum of Natural History reports humans long mistook squids for other mythical creatures, often confusing “a giant squid carcass with a merman or mermaid.”

“Now we know otherwise, but it took a long time for scientific evidence to replace the myths,” the museum says.

Mermaids and mermen are legendary half human, half-fish creatures that predate Greek mythology, according to LiveScience.com.

“In folklore, mermaids were often associated with misfortune and death, luring errant sailors off course and even onto rocky shoals,” the museum site reports.

NOAA got the surreal photo by using a sneaky two-camera approach to conduct its research. While a remote camera moved across the sea floor, a wider angle camera was attached to the bottom of its ship, spying on creatures that they believed were secretly observing the remote camera from above.

The research was done as part of the Deep Search 2019 mission, to explore deep water off the Atlantic coast, including canyons and escarpments. NOAA did not reveal the depth the photo was taken.

Commenters on NOAA’s post of the photo marveled that the creature’s appearance was deceptive and likened it instead to a to “a killer gigantic spider” or a large scorpion.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, the LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.
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