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Mermaids: humanoid fish or humans with fish tails?
Seraphyna
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Post: #1
Mermaids: humanoid fish or humans with fish tails?
A couple of threads on another site got me thinking...how do you perceive merfolk (and I mean merfolk not mer-kin)? Do you see them as being primarily human with a fish tail or do you see them as being a humanoid fish, being more animal than human? For that matter, do you see them as looking human with a fish tail and being more human, do you see tham as human with a fish tail but being more animalistic (kind of like the mermaids in Pirates of the Caribbean), do you see them looking more humanoid fish and acting more human, or as more humanoid fish and more animalistic?


Personally, I see them as being primarily animal in appearance and behavior. Concerned with survival and reproduction. Animal Planet's special on mermaids, which worked on the idea that a mermaid's remains were found and then recreated how they would live and so forth, struck me as being pretty accurate (minus the mermaids existing on earth part of course).
[Image: 277874-mermaids-the-body-found.jpg][Image: mermaids-the-body-found-e1338308150354.jpg]
Granted, I also identify a little bit with how they were portrayed in the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie. There they were shown as more human with a fish tail, but only mimicking human qualities in order to capture sailors and drag them to their watery deaths.

I suppose I identify with something somewhere in the middle in terms of appearance. Having a fish tail, and torso with fish-like scales (or perhaps skin like existing aquatic mammals) with fins around the elbows and maybe on the shoulders and sides of the torso as well. I tend to identify more with them having flowing hair than none, but that's probably because I have decently long hair and more acknowledge that they wouldn't have long flowing hair as it would be an evolutionary disadvantage because of creating drag. So I guess in the end, while I'm certain of an animalistic nature with possible qualities mimicking humanity in order to survive, but not being truly human traits of theirs, their appearance is something I'm not entirely settled on. If I was remotely artistic I could draw the image in my head...but I'm not. If anyone who *is* artistically inclined would like a challenge, let me know <!-- sWink --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_e_wink.gif" alt=";)" title="Wink" /><!-- sWink -->

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2012-06-12 21:51
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Post: #2
Re: Mermaids: humanoid fish or humans with fish tails?
Maybe I should scan in my still sort of rough sketches for my personal interpretation of mermaids/merfolk that I started in late 2010. I do have this image of one (link), although I haven't yet added numerous other features to it ("hair", tail and dorsal fins, facial features, etc.), and there's a version I did back in '03 (link) which is roughly similar to how I prefer to depict them now.

I see them (that is, just my own interpretation) as being humanoid with a fish-like tail, and being fairly intelligent predacious animals in mentality and behavior. I always associate merfolk with gills (whether those are on their neck, over the ribs, on the back, etc.) and it feels weird to me to see merfolk depicted without gills (which most of them are), and I don't see them as having "knee" joints in their "tail"--as they seem often depicted in art, which I never really understood (the same depictions showing their tail like it's supposed to be flexible vertebrae, not bendy legs with knee-joints). Beyond that, I think of them as having some kind of "non-human" looking eyes (all black, for example, or my newer version of them has cuttlefish "W-pupil" eyes), webbed fingers ending in claws, fins of a sort on their arms, dorsal fins, pelvic fins, and some form of scales on all or most of their skin. (This paragraph notes the characteristics of merfolk that I most consistently prefer to see in other people's depictions of them and that I feel the most 'connection', per se, to in regards to what seems to feel intuitively "right" to me for what my mind thinks a mermaid 'should' look like. Though I don't identify as mermaid or otherwise aquatic 'kin at all, to add.)

My depictions of them are kind of weird additionally in that their necks in default position look "broken" because the necks are longer than those in humans and more flexible, so their normal/default position is more curved (kind of bird-like) in order to allow their face to be pointed directly forward while swimming. The "hair" on these ones isn't really hair but instead is essentially like jellyfish tentacles that are covered by a movable jellyfish-like "umbrella" that can be opened and closed. Their teeth are also sharper and better designed for an aquatic carnivorous diet. These ones also don't have "breasts" in the mammalian or human sense (therefore, no nipples on them), although I see some 'species' of them as having a human breast-like form over their chests, but with a more 'shelf-bra' kind of appearance rather than two separate "breasts". I prefer for them to have a human-feminine upper/front body and face shape compared to a human-masculine shape, for whatever reason (male merfolk often look odd to me).

Some miscellaneous other things I prefer to include on this depiction of merfolk are:
--a bony 'spike' under the forearm skin that can be projected outward and stabbed into prey in order to inject poison
--spikes that run down the chest over the "breasts"
--there are at least a few types of tail fins that I can see them depicted in, though they are consistently horizontal fins
--chromatophores in parts of their skin or scales to allow for color changing and camouflaging
--either a rather flexible, more serpentine-like tail or one more similar, and thus less flexible, to that of dolphins and whales
--lack of 'ears', but may have 'ear fins' of some type that may look superficially like some kind of outer ears

I do, however, have a fascination in seeing various interpretations of mermaids/merfolk, even ones that are as simple as a human upper half with a fish tail instead of legs, or alternatively, even some depictions of humans who can breathe under water (I really prefer for them to be shown with gills, though). There's such a wide diversity of ways merfolk can and have been pictured, and I continue to come across new interpretations from time to time that I haven't seen before. Those ones on that Animal Planet show are interesting in form, although some of their characteristics I don't particularly like (such as their eyes, lack of gills, no scales, no head "hair", and that weird fin/flap thing on their backs and heads).

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2012-06-13 0:22
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Post: #3
Re: Mermaids: humanoid fish or humans with fish tails?
I've honestly never really given it much thought (although I probably should!) so thank you for creating this interesting topic Sera! Also, do you have a link to the actual Animal Planet 'documentary'? I don't have cable and have not been able to find it myself.

I'd think more than likely there are either 2 distinct merfolk categories, or several subspecies of merfolk. Those two main categories would be upper half human with a fish tail (I hesitate to say half fish and half human because it's usually just a line in the middle of their bodies that creates the separation and not truly half and half.) and more fish-like in appearance. The later would probably have subspecies associated with the fish aspects like coloration, poison, number of fins, etc.

Let's start with the first one, we'll call them humanoid merfolk for clarity's sake. This is the traditional view of a mermaid: beautiful girl from the waist up; perky breasts, flowing hair, etc. and a fish from the waist down. Typically loves to sing, sits on rocks, combs their hair, vain, lures sailors in but doesn't necessarily eat them. Ariel from Disney's The Littler Mermaid is the perfect example. Although, this one is probably a bit more realistic. These types I see as being more like humans socially, probably due to their physical appearance and seeing The Little Mermaid one too many times. heh. Like humans that simply evolved to live in the sea and akin to aquatic mammals like whales and seals as far as group dynamics go. (Technically, if they're similar to cetaceans, etc. they could also be termed animalistic, but we won't go there as then it gets really confusing!)

The second type, the animalistic merfolk, would be more fish than human. But the same as above in that they evolved into creatures that once walked on land but now live in the sea. Accept they're more...shark-like as far as society goes? This type is also more physically fish-like: extra fins, little/no hair, typically side-to-side swimming movement, visible gills, humanoid fish or anthropomorphic fish is probably an accurate term. Like this or this.

Both humanoid merfolk and animalistic merfolk I would see as being intelligent predators. And I agree with Sonne in that seeing merfolk, of any type, depicted with a knee-joint irritates me. Fish do not have knees, so even in the humanoid merfolk there should be no knee to bend. Ariel's posturing drives me nuts in that regard! Sitting on your tail is fine (Unless you have a dorsal fin that runs all the way down your back, Madison from Splash I'm looking at you!) but there's no knee to bend!

And Sonne, cuttlefish eyes can be creepy! Cool too, but also creepy. Not as creepy as goat eyes, but still kind of creepy.

The problem I'm running into with these two groups is that obviously, there's going to be some merfolk that simply overlap. Which is the case for me, personally. I haven't done much research, just scratched the surface (haha) regarding my own aquatic fae/merfolk leanings. That being said, I view myself as more of the third category: human/fish hybrid with a society and predatory nature similar to orcas. I feel a phantom dorsal fin which reminds me of a dolphin's, yet I feel gills that can flare out on my neck, webbed hands and a long fish tail. Swimming is an up and down movement like aquatic mammals, although side to side is possible for tight maneuverability, although the tail is definitely fish not mammalian.

The tails are longer than humanoid merfolk are typically depicted and do not have that knee joint I mentioned earlier. I've also felt hip fins too. And maybe a fin on the back of my head that can rise and fall, but I'm not sure. <!-- s:? --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_e_confused.gif" alt=":?" title="Confused" /><!-- s:? -->

Realistically, for this earth that is, I would think merfolk would not have noses as it's kind of pointless to try to smell things underwater. I would think human ears would also be useless, but perhaps fins would appear in their place. I'd also think it likely that fish scales cover most ,if not all, of their bodies.

I enjoy seeing any depictions of merfolk, and have spent countless hours scouring dA and Google for them. But when it comes down to it and if I had to choose, more human or less human, I'd probably er with more human because it's traditional. But with more than normal fishy attributes!

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2012-06-13 18:14
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Post: #4
Re: Mermaids: humanoid fish or humans with fish tails?
To watch the Animal Planet thing you'll probably have to try youtube and watch it in segments. It's not anywhere online that I can find in its entirety, only small clips.

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2012-06-13 20:09
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Post: #5
Re: Mermaids: humanoid fish or humans with fish tails?
Seraphyna Wrote:To watch the Animal Planet thing you'll probably have to try youtube and watch it in segments. It's not anywhere online that I can find in its entirety, only small clips.

S'this it?

Cause it seems, at first glance, to be the entire thing. It's just got Japanese? subtitles.

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2012-06-13 20:57
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Post: #6
Re: Mermaids: humanoid fish or humans with fish tails?
It's a little different, but essentially the same program. You might have found the UK version, the US one was only an hour.

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2012-06-13 21:14
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Post: #7
Re: Mermaids: humanoid fish or humans with fish tails?
I just watched it and it's definitely not something I would associate with Animal Planet. The fake documentary style really bothered me since it's presented just like a real documentary. Easy for a young kid to get mislead just for their ratings.

It did bring to light some interesting facts like that humans can control their breathing whereas other land animals generally cannot. And why humans could be hairless never occurred to me but it makes perfect sense. (And I've often wondered why we don't have fur!)

I do agree with the tail depictions though: longer and with no knee joint. Most human/fish mermaids don't seem to have long enough tails that bend properly in my opinion.

*goes back to watching it*

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2012-06-14 20:18
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Post: #8
Re: Mermaids: humanoid fish or humans with fish tails?
I know this is an older post, but I'll add my take on it anyway.

After much research, I concluded there is no such thing as a half-humanoid half-fish species.
If anything, there are aquatic faeries which may have limbs and fins and stuff, but do not resemble humans in any way, in fact, water fae in their real shape often evoke instant fear and horror in humans.
Now, being shapeshifters, some fae simply change their appearance a bit to look appealing to humans (for whatever, but usually no good, purpose...huehue).
Some go all the way- which is why there are legends where the nixies, vily, rusalki, naiades and what else they have been called, are shown simply as beautiful young maidens despite clearly being waterspirits.

Then there are those who can't or won't fully conceal their true shape, and leave their lower body, some fins, etc, as they are, only disguising their usually terrifying jaws, predatory teeth and so on.
They reveal their true shape quickly once they have their prey where they want it though.

Seeing mermaids as shapeshifting fae of various kinds does neatly explain all the different versions of waterdwelling spirit that are featured in mythology- some of the first mermaids, nereids and tritons, have even been described as gigantic sea creatures akin to sea serpents, while other waterspirits like vily do have a seaserpent/waterdragon form alright.
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Post: #9
RE: Mermaids: humanoid fish or humans with fish tails?
I tend to picture the more traditional half human half fish type, with gills and maybe webbed fingers and similar things. The depictions with knees look a bit silly though I can rationalise it as being a lot more human. I really son't like the depictions where the tail starts halfway down the legs, what if they want to stretch their legs out? They can't. It's like being disabled.

I've always puzzled about their reproductive system, cant decide whether they're more akin to sharks or dolphins. I can't see a behaviourally humanlike creature making do with fertilising eggs from a distance like normal fish.
Someone earlier mentioned long flexible necks to be able to look forward and that makes total sense. Not really thought of it that way before. A flexible neck would certainly help make life easier.
I imagine their behaviour to be a mix of human and cetacean, being able to communicate from a distance so spending a bit more time alone than a typical human. I also tend to picture the whole demure, feminine mannerisms of traditional merfolk. Combing the hair all sexy like. Depends on my mood how plausible I make it. Mermen are either effeminate too or extra masculine a bit like king triton or something.

The more animalistic style where they're scary hunters with crazy teeth is very fun and I like seeing it. Bring on the freaks. But from my own experiences as a merperson, the traditional style is my default.
(This post was last modified: 2021-05-11 10:37 by Seamonkey.)
2021-05-11 10:36
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