Fantasy, Cryptozoology and/or Reality: Interconnected stories of mythological creatures and marine mammals

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Among other monstrosities and myths from the sea and aquatic bodies, the double-tailed mermaid has been profusely described and depicted in early modern literature, bestiaries and natural history treaties as in the iconography and cartography. Usually shown as a female form with one head and upper body and holding its two fish-like tails, it did represent the epitome of beautiful nature creations but also its strangeness and hybridity. With virtues and sins, love and danger within the same body, it could be the reflection of the moral and human acts’(dis)conformities. Besides the symbolic meaning of the mirror, or the twinning, could these mythical beings also be the result of non-understood observations of rare events in the sea? In this paper, more than providing answers, I am proposing some questions regarding early nature apprehension and natural knowledge production by relating the physicality of double-tailed mermaids with the real, yet highly obscure, occurrences of conjoined twins in sea animals. Conjoined or Siamese twins have, in fact, rarely been described in wild (marine) mammals but a couple of cases in cetaceans just came to light in recent years. Even though descriptions of monsters sometimes reveal more about people’s minds and perceptions than they do about the animals, the physical similarities between these two types of marine monsters, and the possibility of real observations resulting in imaginary animals will be discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIntelligence, Creativity and Fantasy
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the 5th International Multidisciplinary Congress (PHI 2019), October 7-9, 2019, Paris, France
EditorsMário S. Ming Kong, Maria do Rosário Monteiro, Maria João Pereira
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherCRC Press
Number of pages6
ISBN (Electronic)978-0-429-29775-5
ISBN (Print)978-0-367-27719-2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019
Event5th International Multidisciplinary Congress PHI 2019: “Intelligence, Creativity and Fantasy". - Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris, France
Duration: 7 Oct 20199 Oct 2019
Conference number: 5

Publication series

PublisherCRC Press


Conference5th International Multidisciplinary Congress PHI 2019: “Intelligence, Creativity and Fantasy".
Abbreviated titleIntelligence, Creativity and Fantasy
Internet address


  • Environmental Humanities
  • Sea Monsters
  • Perceptions
  • Early Modern Age
  • Mermaids
  • Cetaceans
  • Biology
  • Oceans history


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