jump to navigation

The Problem with Sea Apes May 24, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Contemporary, Modern , trackback

***Dedicated to Andy the Mad Monk and Invisible***

Beach has, since the early days of this site, shown a persistent interest in mermaids. It would be outrageous then to pass by the important new documentary coming out (or has it already aired?) on Animal Planet. The following is borrowed from Wikipedia (courtesy of the inestimable Invisible).

Mermaids: The Body Found is a two hour Animal Planet… The fictional film tells the story of a scientific team’s investigative efforts to uncover the source behind mysterious underwater recordings and an unidentified marine body. Two former National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists tell their story on camera for the first time. After investigating mass strandings of whales, the team claimed to have recorded mysterious underwater noises coming from an unknown source. This sound resembled a sound previously recorded in 1997, called the ‘bloop’. They also claimed to have recovered 30% of the remains of an unknown creature from inside a great white shark which was said to possess attributes of the human body. They alleged that the marine creature had hands, not fins, and the hip structure of an upright animal. These findings, along with many others led the team to determine that this unknown animal was very closely related to humans, possibly a mermaid.

So a mockumentary has been created to  entertain and to offer the latest theory on mermaids. And what is this theory? This time Beach borrows from part of a Fox News report (courtesy of Andy). Note how there is absolutely no mention here of the fictional content unless the word ‘compelling’ (as in ‘the punters don’t do simple facts’) is supposed to cover that!

In the two-hour CGI Special Mermaids: The Body Found, Animal Planet dives deep into the idea that mermaids may have been real, and, even better – related to humans! ‘It’s a very radical theory on human evolution, but we have approached an age-old myth and really chased its origins,’ Animal Planet honcho Charlie Foley told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. ‘It has been compiled in a way that is very compelling, making us think that mermaids might not just be mythical creatures.’ The show unravels mysterious underwater sound recordings and presents a bone-chilling argument for the Aquatic Ape Theory, which suggests that during the transition from apes to hominid, some humans went through an aquatic stage. This stage is argued to have resulted in ‘aquatic ape-like’ creatures. ‘There are striking differences between us and other primates, yet [there are] many features we share with marine mammals, like the webbing between our fingers, which other primates don’t have, a layer of subcutaneous fat, and a loss of body hair,’ Foley explained. ‘We also have an instinctive ability to swim, and control over breath. Humans can hold breath up to 20 minutes, longer than any other terrestrial animal.’ Mermaids: The Body Found ponders the concept that coastal flooding millions of years ago turned some of our ancestors inland, while another group branched off into the deep water out of necessity and for food.

Beach has already highlighted sea apes. In fact, he dug up, to the best of his knowledge, the earliest reference to the concept that dates back to the eighteenth century. And this is where the problems begin… Readers might want to flag up problem concerning biology, which Beachcombing is, sadly, not qualified to do: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com However, Beachcombing would like to stick his oar into the epistemology of sea-bourne monkeys.

If you want to explain the unicorn then it makes sense to look for a now extinct creature. After all, people no longer see unicorns (with very few exceptions) and those sightings there are usually involve travelers far from home confronted by unusual but known animals. If there was a unicorn-like animal ten thousand years ago then it is possible that this animal got trapped in an early phase of human myth and that it was passed down to us from there.

However, the problem with explaining mermaids in this way is that sightings continue  into the present. There are dozens of sightings, for example, from the Hebrides (Scotland) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Beach can only see three ways forward in relation to the sea-ape theory.

(i) There is a small population of sea apes that survived (or survives) on and off the British coast and yet no body or photograph has ever turned up.

(ii) The mermaids that are seen cannot be explained as physical entities. Here you can give a psychological, a theosophist or a ‘pagan’ explanation, but sea apes are out.

(iii) By some bizarre mechanism presently beyond our understanding the sea ape, which has not lived on the Scottish coast for a thousand or ten thousand years, entered ‘collective memory’ and has reappeared in the imagination of locals: go to (ii) above but with sea apes ‘in’.

Beach just might be able to conceive, against all his better judgement, that in the wild backwoods of New Zealand or in the expanses of the Rocky Mountains there are giant flightless birds or unknown hominids. But if anyone finds a sea ape community on the coast of Scotland, he’ll eat a tonne of boiled sweets. He has never seen (pace Jungians) any proof for ancestral memory. And so he would plump for number (ii), as he would for fairies.

In fact, forget sea apes, mermaids seem to be sea fairies. And in many ways the sea ape theory is to mermaids what the late nineteenth century pygmy theory was to the fey.

People sometimes see things that are not physically present: whether they are truly external or not Beach will happily leave to the philosophers.  What is absolutely terrifying about this is that if our perception can play these kinds of tricks on us (or ‘pull back the veils of creation’ if you prefer) can our senses be trusted under any circumstances? On just that subject, looking forward to the documentary…

***

25 May 2012: Wade writes in ‘Your sea ape post instantly reminded me of the aquatic ape theory, first proposed by a German pathologist, Max Westenhofer, in 1942, then proposed again British marine biologist, Alister Hardy, in 1960. It has since been championed by Elaine Morgan, a Welsh writer (per Wikipedia). I saw a special on this years ago. It is a fascinating idea. My impression is that most anthropologists have either actively hated or completely ignored the theory as pseudo-science. Here are two links: Elaine Morgan’s  and an anthropologist’s view that examines the controversial theory and yields the sceptical response. Thanks Wade!

9 June 2012: Invisible often sends Mermaid stuff in (thanks!!!) and though not for this post here seemed a good place to celebrate this material. This article posits that the mermaids were “ama”, Japanese pearl diving girls. Ingenious, but somehow I don’t think the theory covers North Sea sightings ? Also, the Japanese know the difference between Ama and Ningyo (mermaids). For example, here is an ama with a tentacled admirer. I was going to post another one, but blushed to find that it fell into the “shunga” or “naughty” category–netsuke carvers had something of a fixation on octopus-human romance.  I’ve been looking for a good example of a genuine mermaid netsuke, but all I’m finding online are nasty modern fakes. Ningyo netsuke look like traditional mermaids–not diving girls. Ningyo is also a Japanese name for “doll”, apropos of nothing. There is a link here for a very unusual merman and a woman diver and octopus netsuke. The other ama netsuke I linked to IS a modern piece in mammoth ivory, but done in the old style as opposed to a whole group of simply awful modern mermaid carvings that the carvers seem to be making up as they go along.’ Thanks Invisible!!!