Perhaps on the theory that humans will only care about the ocean if it contains something that looks like humans, Animal Planet has aired a fictionalized “documentary” that purports to investigate the existence of mermaids. Even though NOAA already weighed in a year ago (the LAST time Animal Planet did this) saying that mermaids don’t exist, people seem to be convinced. Convinced enough, anyway, that actual scientists like marine biologist David Shiffman have to take time out of their schedules to publish articles about how DUH, GUYS, THERE ARE NO FISHPEOPLE IN THE SEA.
I’m actually sort of in favor of letting people make fools of themselves by tweeting things like “90 percent of the ocean is unexplored and you’re telling me #mermaids don’t exist.” Because two hours ago you didn’t care about ocean exploration, and now you do, because that ocean might have boobs in it. Fine. SOLD. Please donate to a worthy ocean cleanup cause, because we don’t want Ariel’s pretty hair to get all sticky.
But Shiffman has a convincing argument why it matters that people are going around thinking fishladies live in the deep:
It matters because the ocean is extremely important. It provides jobs for tens of millions of people and food for billions. However, many marine resources are being overexploited and mismanaged, leaving us in serious danger of losing them forever. Policy solutions can help, but if you are so ignorant about what is really happening in the ocean that you believe that there are organisms that are half human and half fish, you’re almost certainly unaware of the important problems, much less how to solve them.
Of course, if you believe there are organisms that are half human and half fish, it may not be possible to bring you up to speed enough for you to grasp policy solutions. For those of you who can, however, Shiffman provides five facts about the ocean that are less obvious than “no mermaids live in it”:
1. The oceans are not inexhaustible, we’re currently overharvesting many resources, and the consequences can be disastrous.
2. Current fishing practices aren’t just problematic for the fish species we are trying to catch.
3. Just because a fish is from “the ocean” doesn’t mean you should release it in the nearest body of salt water.
4. Sharks aren’t a threat to you, they’re important, and they’re in trouble
5. Although mermaids don’t exist, the ocean is still full of wonder, and it needs your help!
So what you’re saying is, mermaids are real and need my help, right? I’m a-coming, mermaids!
No, Mermaids Do Not Exist, Slate.