While taking an October stroll along a windswept beach, Paul Jones apparently encounters something straight from the pages of a fairytale. The gruesome rotting carcass lies stranded in the surf, its decomposing features looking unlike anything from this world. But what exactly has he stumbled upon? Is it really a mythical creature, or could there be a more prosaic explanation?
Strange beings that come from the sea are not a new phenomenon. In fact, many ocean-going cultures have their own myths about half-human, half-fish creatures that live in the water and occasionally try to lure sailors to their deaths.
The first mention of mermaids is thought to have been in an Assyrian legend from 1,000 BC. The goddess Atargatis, specifically, was said to have taken a form that was part fish, part beautiful woman; the transformation happened when she jumped into a lake after accidentally killing her mortal love.
And the mermaid legend eventually took hold, particularly among those who spent their lives at sea. Christopher Columbus reported seeing mermaids in 1493; similarly, the famous pirate Blackbeard, who rerouted several voyages to avoid waters where they were thought to lurk. Today, mermaids are mostly confined to books and movies, though the odd “sighting” still occurs.
All this and more may have been going through Jones’ mind when he made the mysterious find on October 2, 2016. He had been out walking with his wife Theresa in Great Yarmouth, on the east coast of England, when he discovered the strange carcass washed up on the shore.
Intrigued, he snapped some photographs and uploaded them to his Facebook page. Within two days, moreover, the incredible images had been shared 15,000 times – and for good reason.
In the graphic photographs, the supposed skull and torso of an apparently humanoid creature can be seen attached to what appears to be a fish-like tail. The top half of the carcass seems to be in an advanced state of decay; the bottom half, on the other hand, looks relatively intact.
“Today at Great Yarmouth we found what looks like a dead mermaid washed up on the beach,” Jones wrote in his Facebook caption. He uploaded five photographs in total – plus a video that shows the alleged creature’s tail flapping in the wind.
But could Jones and his wife really have found the remains of a mythical mermaid washed up on an English beach? Well, online reactions to his amazing discovery have been mixed.
While many Facebook commenters understandably expressed amazement, others were quick to denounce the find as a fake. Some even claimed to know exactly how the mermaid was put together.
“Nice work,” wrote Duygu Askr, “but I didn’t like the tail, maybe you should improve it. It looks like petroleum products, like trash bags.” Another commenter took a humorous approach by simply writing “RIP Ariel” in reference, of course, to the heroine from The Little Mermaid.
Others piped up to suggest that what Jones had found could have been the carcass of a relatively common grey seal. Experts have actually suggested that misidentified seals could have been behind many of history’s alleged mermaid sightings.
And Jones’ mermaid discovery is not the first of its kind in modern times. Back in 1943, for example, a group of WWII Japanese soldiers stationed on Indonesia’s Kei Islands claimed to have spied strange creatures swimming in the water.
They were, apparently, around 5 feet tall and had human-like faces and limbs and mouths like a carp’s. Sergeant Taro Horiba even claimed to have been shown the carcass of one by a local chief. And, upon his return to Japan, he tried to persuade zoologists to research the animal. Without proof, however, he was ridiculed by his peers.
A more contemporary alleged sighting, meanwhile, came in December 2010, when YouTube user TampaDarkMetal uploaded a shocking video of what he claimed was a dead mermaid. In the vid, a strange carcass with red hair, human-like features and a tail can be seen washed up on a beach.
The discovery, according to the caption, was made at Gators Pass on Florida’s west coast. Sharp-eyed observers, however, recognized the “mermaid” as the work of artist Juan Cabana. Cabana makes fantastical creations using the remains of dead marine life, so the confusion is perhaps understandable.
In November 2014, though, yet more alleged mermaid remains appeared. A series of incredible photos said to depict a deceased mermaid found at Kilauea Falls in Hawaii began circulating on the internet.
The images appear to show a half-human creature with the upper body of a woman and the tail of a fish – and scaly tentacles covering her body and hair. The carcass certainly seems to match the classical depiction of a mermaid, but this, too, was eventually found to be wanting. Myth-busting website Hoax-Slayer, for one, believes that the “body” is in fact a prop from one of the Pirates of the Caribbean films.
With so many apparent mermaid hoaxers out there, it’s perhaps unsurprising that this latest story has been met with doubt. Indeed, Jones’ own Facebook page reveals that he’s a member of a group called Horror and Halloween DIY. Not only that, but he’s a keen fan of spooky statues and prosthetics.
But despite such revelations being made within days of Jones’ alleged discovery, his original post has so far been shared almost 30,000 times. People, it seems, aren’t quite ready to give up believing in mermaids just yet.