Dugongs and Mermaids, Selkies and Seals

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This article examines maritime beast lore and myth associated selkies and mermaids, then analyses links to seals and dugongs through historical and legendary accounts. The process of lore-transference between the two mythic beasts, or one taking on the mythic characteristics of the other, in modern popular culture texts is also examined. Themes of environmental sustainability and conservation are explored.

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... If disturbed, she suddenly dives under water, and tosses up her fishlike tail. (Kirkpatrick 1992: 667) Eurocentric human/ dugong interactions and understandings of classical mythology have forged significant links between Sirens and dugongs, transferring Siren-lore into not only to modern-day popular culture but also onto newly mythicized landscapes. 1 In 1998, this journal, Australian Folklore, published the article 'Dugongs and Mermaids, Selkies and Seals' (Jøn 1998). That article explored connections between the beast lore of dugongs, and transformed and modern mythicized understandings of mermaids. ...
... An analysis of this material can suggest means for reengaging with the nonhuman world and for reconsidering how we relate to the world itself. (Hawkins 2013: 187) Arguably, the forces that reshaped mermaid-lore (Jøn 1998) fit neatly within that paradigm of 'ongoing blending[s]' (Hawkins 2013: 187). ...
This paper considers the 'Dugongs, les dernières sirens', or, 'Dugongs: the last remaining mermaids' exhibition at Aquarium des Lagons in New Caledonia as a touristic commodification of the maritime beast lore of the dugong (or mermaid). In unpacking the exhibit several other themes emerge, such as the absence of Kanak perspectives and issues of colonization / de-colonization.
Inclusion of historical perspectives is considered necessary for the comprehensive assessment and management of complex social-ecological systems. Marine conservation biologists have increasingly recognized the value of non-traditional sources such as historical anecdotes as a way to estimate pre-anthropogenic baseline conditions in wildlife populations. The present study demonstrates that examination of eyewitness sightings of unidentified marine objects (UMOs), that were thought at the time to have been sea serpents of the “many-humped” or “string-of-buoys” typology, reveals that Australian marine fauna may have been victims of entanglement in fishing gear for a much longer period than is generally assumed. If this illation is correct, the onset of entanglement in Australia predates by many decades the advent and use of plastic in fisheries and other maritime operations in the later half of the twentieth century. Additionally, given the alarming global promulgation of pseudoscientific rhetoric, the present study offers a pedagogical opportunity in which to contrast alternative explanations of folklore and cryptozoology versus those of euhemerism and scientific parsimony.
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