|Photo: Mermaid Dana, who swims with dolphins on a daily basis. Photo by Porter Watson, used here courtesy of
Well, go thy way: thou shalt not from this grove
Till I torment thee for this injury.
My gentle Puck, come hither. Thou rememb'rest
Since once I sat upon a promontory,
And heard a mermaid on a dolphin's back
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath
That the rude sea grew civil at her song,
And certain stars shot madly from their spheres,
To hear the sea-maid's music.
Flying between the cold moon and the earth,
Cupid all arm'd: a certain aim he took
At a fair vestal throned by the west,
And loosed his love-shaft smartly from his bow,
As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts;
But I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft
Quench'd in the chaste beams of the watery moon,
And the imperial vot'ress passed on,
In maiden meditation, fancy-free.
—Shakespeare, "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Interview with a Mermaid
Meet Dana Richardson.
Qualified Marine Mammal Naturalist; Free diver; Photographer.
Home base: Kailua-Kona, Hawai‘i Island.
Web site: www.danamermaid.com.
In cultures across the world, stories of mermaids have been documented and told for thousands of years, spanning the globe in various incarnations. According to Funk & Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary of Folklore: Mythology and Legend, the earliest documentation of merfolk dates back over 3,000 years to Assyria. Stories abound in Europe, Africa, Asia; in the Caribbean, with Acayan; Maori tales of Maraki-hau and Pania of the Reef; in Hawai‘i, Moananuikalehua. In the Arabian Nights, mermaids lure sailors to their doom with their singing, while some British traditions hold that even seeing a mermaid spells doom for the entire ship. Perhaps these tales are what led them to be associated with the sirens of ancient Greek and Roman myth mentioned prominently in Homer’s Odyssey, although early Greek art depicts the sirens as half-bird, not half-fish. Despite the feathers, variations of the word siren are used in many countries as the word for mermaid: in Spain, Italy, and the Philippines, sirena; in France, sirène; in Portugal, sereia.
Not all encounters with mermaids end in death or disaster, however. According to The Mythical Creatures Bible: The Definitive Guide to Legendary Beings by Brenda Rosen: if chosen by the mami wata of West and Central Africa, good fortune would follow you, but only as long as you remained faithful to her; Japan’s ningyo, with the body of a fish, mouth of a monkey and face of a human, gives immortality when eaten; the Australian Aboriginal yawkyawk bring the rains, fertility, and will sometimes marry human men. Chinese mermaids’ tears turn into pearls. According to Scottish legend, the caesg grant three wishes to those with the ability to catch her. According to
W. B. Yeats in Irish Fairy and Folk Tales, the Irish Merrow (or Murrúghach) would sometimes take human fishermen as their lovers. And if their red cap (cohullen druith) is stolen, the mermaid is unable to return to the water until she gets it back.
As for twenty-first century Pacific Ocean mermaids south of the Tropic of Cancer, there is Dana Marie: whose “soul” purpose it seems is to spread a message of love and knowledge. A tried and true lover and champion of the sea upon which she “started out crewing on boats,” Dana also owns a captain’s license. She is a Hawai‘i Island transplant born with legs—which she uses, like the rest of us, to get about on land and, unlike the rest of us, to power any one of the handcrafted mermaid tails she created for exploring underwater.
Photo:Mermaid Dana Marie. "I travel to Tahiti and the South Pacific to swim with and photograph the Southern Pacific Humpback whales, to the Bahamas for shark species and Atlantic Spotted and Bottlenose dolphins, as well as to New Zealand for the Dusky dolphins and Sperm Whales.”
In childhood, she believed in the existence of mermaids, and both fascinated and obsessed, she spent "hours upon [parent supervised] hours practicing staying underwater" and made a "mermaid's tail using fins and dive rings to hold my legs together." What she wanted then as a childhood dream and and lives out as a reality now is "the mermaid who can communicate with the ocean with her best friends the whales and dolphins." Dana's parents encouraged her in the pursuit of what she refers to as "mermaiding," teaching her to "believe that anything is possible." Of her parents and siblings, Dana says, "I’m so blessed to have a family that ‘thinks outside of the box’ and believes in creativity and dreams. My parents also very much encouraged my love of swimming as a mermaid and in getting in my water time!"
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where she says her “gills went dry,” Dana moved west to San Diego, CA, (a destination to where she had often travelled) at the "earliest chance" she could. "I spent my time there as a lifeguard and taught swimming lessons." She also worked at Sea World San Diego, "doing animal care with a dream to be near whales and dolphins." At Sea World, she realized that she disagreed with animal captivity and “needed to be working with dolphins and whales in the wild.” So, she moved west of California across the sea to Hawai‘i Island, where settled for now in the seaside town of Kailua-Kona, she has been able to “work with cetaceans and other sea life in the wild through research, boat tours, and photography.” Dana has adapted to life in Hawai‘i—where she claims she is in her “element” and at home, and in the same way that she both acclimates and acculturates to life beneath the sea, Dana respectfully honors and embraces Hawai‘i and its root culture, spending “a lot of time learning hula and chants as the Hawaiian culture relates to the land and the sea.”
| I love that feeling of peaceful calm and grace that overcomes me when I am under the ocean depths and swimming with sea life and seeing the prisms of light rays shining through the surface of the water. —Mermaid Dana
Of life beneath the sea, she says, “The ocean is alive with so much life, from the coral reefs to the phytoplankton to the shark and ray species to the fish and turtles and then, of course, the marine mammals—the whales and dolphins. There really is a whole other world under the sea that comes to life once you dive in under the surface. Magic happens in the ocean. You can hear the fish eating the coral, the shrimp. If you’re lucky and happen to be underwater during whale season, you can hear the beautiful chorus of whale song echoing throughout the water, or you can hear cheerful dolphin sounds or be graced with their sonar.”
Of her “work” as a mermaid, Dana believes “the best part is seeing the joy that lights up children’s faces as they see me. I get to teach kids and adults that it IS possible to live their dreams no matter how crazy the dreams might seem. My hope also is to bring back that connection that we as humans have with the ocean and all sea life. I much prefer being guided by my intuition and observing the world and elements around me so that I can be and do that which I am meant to here on earth.
"I love that feeling of peaceful calm and grace that overcomes me when I am under the ocean depths and swimming with sea life and seeing the prisms of light rays shining through the surface of the water.”