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You Won’t Believe This Tail Of Mistaken Identity

In the vast expanse of the open ocean, where myths and legends are as plentiful as the waves, there lies a creature that has captivated our imagination for centuries–the mermaid. But what if I told you that there was some truth to the madness, and these mythical beings blur the line between reality and fantasy. 

Mermaids: Sea Myth, or Sea Cow?

You know the story— in fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. What you may not know, however, is that Christopher Columbus also recorded a sighting of what he believed to be the notoriously alluring and dangerous mermaid, writing in his journal:

“… when the Admiral went to the Rio del Oro [Haiti], he said he quite distinctly saw three mermaids, which rose well out of the sea; but they are not so beautiful as they are said to be, for their faces had some masculine traits.” (Source- National Geographic)

What he didn’t know was that these “masculine-faced mermaids” were actually the notoriously adorable and docile manatee! That’s right, these gentle giants— otherwise known as the “cows of the sea”— were once believed to be mermaids gliding through ocean waves and luring sailors astray.

It’s hard to say for sure what led Columbus to believe he was seeing mermaids, but we know now that tales (and tails!) of these creatures were absolutely everywhere. They served as the inspiration for the many variations of mermaid myths throughout history! From Homer’s Odyssey to Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, this mythical creature has had its fair share of stories written about it. 

Now, you might be wondering how the manatee could have ever been confused for the beautiful siren/mermaid archetype that was described in so many stories throughout history. The confusion between manatees and mermaids can be attributed to a combination of factors, including superstition, lack of knowledge about the ocean, and even something as simple as a mix up of scientific names. Manatees, with their flat tails and human-like ability to turn their heads, do bear some resemblance to mermaids. From far away on a moving ship, you may also mistake one of these graceful creatures for the merwoman of your dreams! Unlike mermaids, they cannot magically dive into the depths of the sea or play tricks on sailors (that we know of).

The Best Ways to See “Mermaids

Despite the mix up, the three species of manatee–the West Indian manatee, the African manatee, and the Amazonian manatee–are enchanting creatures all by themselves! They can most commonly be found in waters around Florida, Brazil, the Amazon River, the west coast and rivers of Africa. If you’re eager to catch a glimpse of the mystical mammals that have tricked so many sailors and storytellers throughout history, there are more than a few fantastic Carnival cruise destinations where you can get a good look for yourself. 

  1. Cozumel, Mexico

This island is a perfect spot to experience the wonders of some sea life, like the West Indian manatee. A great way to see them is through the all inclusive Dolphins, Manatees & Sea Lions experience, where you can interact with dolphins and manatees! For a deeper dive into marine life, Xcaret Park is the place to be. This expansive water park doubles as an aquarium, amusement park, aviary, and butterfly sanctuary, boasting over 5,000 marine organisms for guests to marvel at. 

  1. Belize

This tropical paradise is home to Antillean manatees, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee. Guests can immerse themselves in the natural beauty of Belize, with the Airboat Mangrove, Garifuna Music & Rum Sampling–which includes an onshore airboat ride though the rich mangrove lagoon, live Garifuna music and dancing, and Belizean rum sampling. Another fantastic tour is the Altun Ha Ruins & River Wildlife Cruise, which includes a trip to the Altun Ha Maya site, a cruise along the scenic River Wallace, and a traditional lunch. 

While the mermaid may sadly remain a creature of myth, sights of the sea and its beautifully abundant marine life are wonderfully real! The only thing left to do is take the first few steps toward something magical.

A swim with mermaids and more is just a few clicks away! Click here to check out the Dolphins, Manatees & Sea Lions shore excursion in Cozumel, Mexico.