Columbus Mistakes Manatees For Mermaids – 1/9/1493

World History |

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Everyone at some point in their lives has thought they saw one particular thing but in reality it is entirely something else. Making a miss-identification is not the end of the world but it may seem it is to the individual depending on the situation. History records such events in that whatever happens can easily be brushed away or written down for generations; centuries to remember and judge accordingly. January 9th, 1493 was a date to remember for a famous Italian explorer by the name of Christopher Columbus.

Although famous for a variety of reasons, he was traveling on this day close to the Dominican Republic when he spots three ”mermaids,” actually manatees, in which he describes them being as “not half as beautiful as they are painted.” Columbus (1451-1506) had six months prior began a voyage that originated in Spain and then sailed across the Atlantic Ocean with a total of three vessels which were named Santa Maria, Nina and the Pinta; the goal was to attempt to discover a western trade route that would lead them to Asia. However, his quest for discovery; this would be his first of four voyages, would lead him to what would be known as the Americas as well as the “New World.”

Since the time of the ancient Greeks, mermaids have been around especially for those seafaring cultures; mermaids have been described as being mythical half-fish, half-female creatures. Those who have depicted these strange beings are given the appearance of having a woman’s torso and head while instead of legs they have a fishtail plus hold a comb and mirror; mermaids are known to make the ocean their habitat but some legends mention they will take on the shape of a mortal and attempt to marry mortal men. Among folkloric figures, mermaids have been linked closely to sirens; they are part-bird, part-female who reside on islands while singing songs that are seductive in the hopes of luring sailors to their watery graves.

When these stories weren’t fabricated, sailors who spoke of mermaid sightings were most likely mistaken when, in reality, were most likely dugongs, manatees or Steller’s sea cows; these creatures unfortunately became extinct because of over-hunting by the 1760s. Manatees are curious creatures that are aquatic animals that are slow-moving that have paddle-like tails, bulbous faces and human-like eyes. Some feel that the manatees probably evolved from a prior ancestor they share with, of all creatures, an elephant. The Sirenia order contains three manatee species known as Amazonian, West Indian and Wet African; one species known as the dugong belong as well. By adulthood, they weigh 800 to 1,200 pounds and typically are 10 to 12 feet long.

Manatees have no natural enemies while being able to survive in the wild for an average of 50 to 60 years; unfortunately, they are listed as endangered species. The majority of the manatees can be discovered in the United States in Florida; sadly, many of them are injured or perish due to boat collisions each year.

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Nancy Reyes

Senior Writer

One of our top senior writers, Nancy came to us wanting to break away from the politics that comes with major news corporations. She leads our team of historical writers in creating the best engaging content out there that keeps our readers coming back for more. She is an enthusiast of all things medieval and has been a member of her renaissance fair group for 15 years. She received her degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California and hopes to one day travel the world.