The manatee has served as a source for mythologies as well as misconceptions throughout the years. West African folklore portrays them as sacred beasts that used to be humans, while Native Americans would use their ground up bones to treat ear problems and asthma. The manatee’s most famous claim-to-fame dates back to ancient Greek Mythology in the “Odyssey”. Homer describes the Sirens as half-women and half-bird creatures who attempt to lure Odysseus with their haunting love songs. Over time this idea of Sirens got construed, or confused, with the notion of a stunningly beautiful mermaid (confusing the half-bird part with half-fish). Early European explorers, including Christopher Columbus, had encounters with these sea creatures and noted that they were not nearly as lovely as the rumors suggested. Never-the-less the manatee is forever branded as a mermaid in society and is even classified in the scientific order of Sirenia. There are many instances of manatees in popular culture in the form of documentaries (such as Manatee: The Forgotten Mermaid), books (such as To The Rescue), and songs (such as Dance of the Manatee by Fair to Midland) amongst many other references.
Most famously, the manatee has been at the heart of mermaid rumors and legends going back several millenia. Many historical sightings of mermaids were actually misunderstood encounters with manatees or other animals of the Sirenia order.
Nowadays, a lot of people like to think of manatees as “the cows of the ocean” – big, slow, and docile.
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