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Mermaids don't exist, says US government (+video)

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"The timing was around that time. I think the TV show came out around Memorial Day and we got a few of the questions [about mermaids]," Keeley Belva, spokesperson for NOAA's National Ocean Service, told LiveScience. "Arguably, yes, the timing is tied to the documentary."

She added, "As we had gotten a couple questions about mermaids, we thought this would be a fun way to talk about it and to have information up about mermaids in different cultures and to draw people into our website and learn more about what NOAA and the National Ocean Service does." [Top 10 Mythical Creatures]

In popular myth, mermaids are half-human, half-fish sirens of the sea. As the ocean facts post points out, they "are legendary sea creatures chronicled in maritime cultures since time immemorial." For instance, Homer wrote of them in the ancient Greek epic "The Odyssey," and in the Far East, mermaids were considered the wives of powerful sea dragons, serving as trusted messengers between the spouses and emperors of the land.

In fact, the scientific grouping Sirenia, which includes manatees and their close relative the dugong comes from mermaid legend. Sailors long ago mistook these large gentle marine mammals for mermaids, or sirens who sang songs to lure ships into rocky shores. Legend has it that Christopher Columbus recorded a sighting of a manatee, saying he was surprised at the not-so-beautiful "mermaid," according to the Dolphin Research Center in Florida.

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