What mermaids look like

Similar to people, merfolk come in different colors and different sizes.

In one of the earliest written reports of modern times, the 1608 log of Henry Hudson described a mermaid on his second voyage. Two of his crewmen, Thomas Hilles and Robert Rayner, saw her at about 71 degrees north in the Barrents Sea, near Norway.

On 15 June 1608, Hudson reported:

“…her skin was very white; and long haire hanging down behinde, of colour blacke; in her going downe they saw her tayle, which was like the tayle of a Porposse, and speckled like a Macrell.”

This mermaid was not simply a walrus that had been mistaken by men too long at sea. In fact, just a few days later, they reported seeing walruses; if there had been confusion about the mermaid, the log would have clarified the earlier report.

There are considerable legends claiming that all “mermaid” sightings were fanciful visions by lonely or drunk sailors, who mistook manatees, seals, walruses, or other sea creatures for mermaids.

Anyone who’s seen a manatee or walrus would raise an eyebrow at this explanation.

When we examine these tales more closely, we see mermaid reports by men of unquestionable reputation.

Also contrary to popular opinion, the majority of documented sightings took place in the 19th century, when people were far more skeptical than their earlier counterparts.

Regardless of the era in which the merfolk were sighted, their descriptions are consistent, within specific categories:

What mermaids look likeTiny merfolk – A small number of sightings report mermaids about the size of a well-fed three or four year old, or a figure approximately three feet tall. However, most accounts describe the merfolk in terms of adult human size.

Some have scales, some do not – Most reports are very specific about the mermaids’ lower bodies having scales, as in Hudson’s report above. However, some sightings are equally insistent that the mermaids were smooth, not scaled.

White merfolk – The majority of documented mermaid sightings refer to their skin as white, and often with very dark or black hair. The merfolk often have ruddy cheeks, and some accounts specifically mention blue eyes.

Green merfolk – Some references, including Ovid’s “green daughters of the sea,” speak of the mermaids and mermen having green skin. Others mention white skin but green hair, and/or green teeth or mouths.

Black or dark merfolk – Late 19th century sightings include mermaids with “dark complexions.”

These descriptions may seem diverse, but each type of mermaid has been seen repeatedly and over many centuries. We need to consider that “mermaid” may be a general terms for a broad category of beings who share only the general description of “part human, part fish.”

You may also be interested in the History of mermaids.

Photo credits
Seahorse – diko1967, Germany
Mermaid display at Harrod’s – Rajal Kanabar Ajai, Maharashtra, India

7 thoughts on “What mermaids look like”

  1. i feel it is my duty to clear up this problem… Mer are not part human part anything, they are wholly Mer – how could a human and fish make a child? they are something like humans, but a completely separate species. i agree with the book ingo here: the primary earthly ones have seal tails – no scales, only smooth.
    and please, don’t call them maids – do you call human girls maids? of course not. why should you call Mer girls that?
    i hope my comment cleared this up. i understand that there are different types, but most i think are just visitors of earth. the seal-tailed human-sized light-skinned ones are the ones native to earth.

  2. If you were to get very scientific, a mermaid would probably look like this:
    Humans can’t be in cold water for very long, so the mermaid would probably be very blubbery and fat. Long hair would get in the way and slow her down, so she’d either have short hair or be bald. Because of saltwater, her skin would be wrinkled. Of course, she’d have her tail.

  3. I rather enjoy how you’ve written about the many different types reported over the years. It was said, many centuries ago, that an ascestor of mine went down to the sea and came across two mermaids trapped by the falling tide. Said their hair and skin were white as snow and their eyes as black as the deepest depths of the sea (which to me sounds more like the descriptions commonly associated with Selkie). Though none of the stories say whether he helped them back to the sea or not, which I find odd.

  4. Um, they called them mermaids because that was the short term for maiden! And they named this species in the medival times, and girls and women were called maidens!

  5. Mermaids are real i know this because I seen on on the coast of kiryat yam . DONT BE FOOLED FROM THE SAYING THAT THEY ARNT REAL BUT THEY ARE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. You know that the first mermaid stories EVER started out where humans started out in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Sumeria and Africa she is the queen of all mermaids was biracial (black and white) and said to have long black hair and said to have 2 tails ( the Starbucks mermaid) her name was yemaya, mami wata, or le sirene. Look her up (:

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