Animal Planet sciences up Mermaids with ‘A Body Found’

It’s MONSTER WEEK on Animal Planet May 21-28. The feature of the week is a new 2 hour program called MERMAIDS: THE BODY FOUND premiering Sunday, May 27.

Mermaids: The Body Found | Animal Planet | Mermaids: The Body Found | Animal Planet | Press Release.

This two-hour special is science fiction based on some real events and scientific theory.


Two-hour CGI Special Unravels Mysterious Underwater Sound Recordings, Dives Deep into the Aquatic Ape Theory and Questions if Mermaids are Related to People

What if there’s a kernel of truth that lives beneath the legend of the mythic mermaid? Now, …Animal Planet brings viewers into the world where the legend is real. The film blends real-life events and phenomena with the story of two scientists who testify they found the remains of a never-before-identified sea creature.

Source: Monsters and Critics

Um. This does not sound good. It sounds like speculation presented in a fact-like format. I do not like that. It so easily confuses people who, even with a disclaimer, tend to see television as truth. Think of the rise in all the zany ideas connected to ancient aliens, UFOs and ghosts thanks to TV shows presented on what we would assume would be nonfiction-content programs.

The reason why Animal Planet did this is obvious. Mermaids are the new big thing. We have three stories prior to this on the site directly related to mermaids and yet that is one of the most frequently used search terms that brings people to the site. Go figure.

The “sciencey” bit they alude to is the aquatic ape theory.

Is it possible that apes split off from terrestrial apes millions of years ago (due to coastal flooding) and retreated into the water, evolving into aquatic creatures somewhat related to humans?

Is it possible that we haven’t discovered every creature and that if massive whales haven’t been discovered until recently, it answers why we haven’t been able to detect mermaids yet?

Improbable to the point of saying “No, that is quite silly.” It’s based on imagination alone.

Here is a comprehensive site that tells you why the aquatic ape theory does not merit serious scientific attention:

The [aquatic ape theory/hypothesis] is a theory which seeks to replace well founded and well argued theoretical views which have been made for many years. It is also radically different. I think it is reasonable to expect that for such a radically different theory to replace all others it should not be “supported” by the sorts of sloppy and/or dishonest methods I’ve described here.

Besides the many false “facts” it proffers as evidence, the [aquatic ape theory/hypothesis] arguments are a hotbed of examples of the Logical Fallacies, including ad hominem, ad hoc, Strawman, Irrelevant Conclusion, Fallacy of Exclusion, Fallacies of Ambiguity, Appeal to Pity, and Special Pleading. It claims to use the principle of convergent evolution, but does so in a strange and unscientific way: first, they use it only in cases where they want to (inaccurately) claim similarity of features, not when it is evidence against their theory (as in the case of the actual ubiquitous aquatic features); and their version of convergence ignores the role of phylogeny (relatedness) in evolution (as in expecting humans to use reptilian or avian salt glands for salt excretion instead of kidneys as all mammals do). Since phylogeny is the central idea in evolution, this places their theory not only outside the mainstream, but indeed outside of all evolutionary theorizing for the past half century or more.

Another major problem the [aquatic ape theory/hypothesis] has arises from its ad hoc reasoning: the theory is internally inconsistent.

Animal Planet is trying to science up the idea again because it looks so cool and fascinating, why not? I’m surprised it took them this long. I guess they had to wait for the CGI to look realistic.

UPDATE (30-May-2012) The LA Times TV Skeptic called the show a stinker.

With fake news broadcasts; fake amateur video and fake expert interviews, the story lays out a fake conspiracy worthy of the “X-Files.” Here, the Navy is so determined to develop their sonar technology that they’re prepared to drive to extinction an intelligent species related to humans.

And Pop Watch emphasizes it’s a “speculative documentary”.

UPDATE (1-June-2012) A (negative) review by Wired:

Speculative biology can be a lot of fun – to wonder how different forms of life might have evolved. And, with the right context and presentation, Mermaids could have been a unique way to highlight evolutionary and biological ideas. But rather than being a hook for communicating actual science,Mermaids was a sensationalistic end in itself. The show was meant to titillate and deceive – yet another bit of noxious rot in what I have often called television’s bottomless chum bucket. I’m sure Animal Planet would defend itself by saying that it issued a disclaimer, but clearly viewers either tuned out or just didn’t pay attention. When a science fiction show, dressed up as a documentary, presents the “Dramatic Re-Enactment” caveat at the bottom of some scenes, it’s not surprising that some viewers were confused about what they were actually seeing.

  12 comments for “Animal Planet sciences up Mermaids with ‘A Body Found’

  1. May 3, 2012 at 7:43 AM

    They’ve done this at least twice before. One was quite decent as entertainment, the other kind of junk.

    The good one, Werewolves: The Dark Survivors, blended two stories. It featured two elements, a “archaeologists discover berserker/werewolf” body in North America, the other was a police investigator who comes across a clan of werewolves. It had some science in it, mostly around the body (it was basically some kind of genetic variation of rabies or some such, I’m sure it was bad biology), which then informed the other story. It was extremely, extremely early seasons of X-Files in style, very low-key paranormal/weird science mystery, and I liked it as strict entertainment for that reason. It was not terribly educational.

    The other was much worse, with the discovery of a dragon’s body frozen in the Alps. This posited an entire branch of reptiles, followed their evolution from the Mesozoic (ending up with various forms to meet various myths), and then their extinction in the Middle Ages. It used various forms of biology from other animals, scaled up or modified, in wholly BS ways. It was the much higher profile of the two shows, they even got Patrick Stewart to do the narration. I thought it was atrocious in part because it was made out to be much more like a documentary. The other one began sort of as a documentary or a “true crime” reconstruction type show, but then became more and more like a movie to the point that it was jarring.

    Of course, Animal Planet are the also the people that have brought us the ridiculously idiotic but fun (IMO) in a B-movie way Lost Tapes show, in which every episode is a half-hour Blair Witch style take on a legend/cryptid. While I’ve seen mention of the show on crypto blogs, it is usually in the same guilty pleasure stance I’d take on it.

    That said, the aquatic ape theory is so dated/nonsensical and cranky, that does up the disgust level for me.

    Besides, we all know the real truth behind mermaids …

  2. May 3, 2012 at 8:06 AM

    This looks to have the worst of both worlds of the two I described. The X-filesy angle comes across as fakey. While the “Swimming with Mermaids” clips are terrible. I must admit, I like the idea of teasing there being a much more horrible secret, and bringing in the Bloop.

    But from a public science perspective, this is awful. First because they really amp up the “this is real” aspect. And second, because they take real world events which should be more publicized, the Navy program which has been in and out of the courts because of its environmental impact, and tie it to a junky CGI mermaids show.

  3. Massachusetts
    May 3, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    I wonder why mermaids are so “in” ? They don’t seem to have the umph that other creatures of lore possess, like werewolves and vampires (even though they are perhaps over done.)

    I didn’t see the dragon flick but I enjoyed the werewolf one. I thought they did a good job with that and it was clearly a fictional and very imaginative account presented in an unusual format, with first person narration by the outlaw werewolf trying to break into another’s territory, which was pretty clearly a fictional presentation to any sane person. I don’t have a problem with that kind of storytelling. But the mermaid one sounds like it may go over the line, like the ancient astronaut documentaries do, presenting all sorts of false facts to explain things that have clear and known explanations.

  4. Massachusetts
    May 3, 2012 at 10:04 AM

    Innsmouth…some pretty freaky, scary fish people there!

  5. May 3, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    The mermaid one looks to be somewhere in between the other two. And neither had a conspiratorial element, which is what makes this one so much worse. The dragon one was confusing. On the one hand, the dragon was supposed to be this amazing find. On the other, in this universe, while dragons were extinct, they were clearly understood from the fossil record. In the werewolf one, they played it very much as a real-world thing, but in the sense that the medical condition was known, but that it led to such extremes in behavior, or to a whole subculture, was not known, and was being discovered by the police investigator. No MIBs, no massive Area 51 style conspiracies, and no real attempt to fool the viewer. This is, at least in the press reel, trying to fool the viewer.

  6. May 3, 2012 at 10:31 AM

    Innsmouth isn’t too bad, I went there last year, even bought a few knick-knacks like a mermaid bottle opener, and this weird humanoid frog-statuette wearing a tiara (no really. I need to put up my Mass pictures soon). It became a nice cozy tourist town a few decades after the 1928 raid. Sort of like Newburyport, Gloucester, or Rockport, as Donovan Loucks points out here under locations.

  7. F89
    May 3, 2012 at 3:09 PM

    Heh. I’ve heard the place has a shadow over it….

  8. Massachusetts
    May 3, 2012 at 5:23 PM

    1. Yes, Lovecraft did have the fish people wearing Tiaras and all sorts of exotic jewelry and robes, I believe. Strange since you’d think it wouldn’t work so well for beings who live under water and all. 🙂 As I recall the main point of the story was a homily about inter breeding, which certainly had unfortunate racial overtones in hindsight. Then again, for some reason Lovecraft’s always gotten away with some rather overt racism when other writers would not, I think. I’m not sure what’s up with that.

    2. Yes, those pesky Lovecraftian shadows. You never know when you’ll bump into one–or more likely one of them will go bump in the night!

    3. If I recall, in the werewolf show the disease wasn’t known to science before (rabies was, but not this bizarre variant nor the werewolf subculture that it spawned.) But most of the werewolves were fine, upstanding, hard working, working class folk just trying to make a living and work together to survive their transformations. If not for the annoying interloper wolf they would never have been discovered or faced trouble, and the cops wouldn’t have been any the wiser. I did like that their transformations, which weren’t that dramatic physically, were the result of a build-up of chemicals in their systems and NOT the full moon. That makes it a bit more “sciency” I suppose. 🙂 The full moon werewolf transformation is, I believe, a product of 20th century cinema. Back in the middle ages people believed that being a werewolf was a personal choice. Like witches, they would presumably ask the devil for help and get magic stuff (ointments and a wolf-hide belt) to allow them to transform at will. That’s a very different critter from the tortured hapless victim we know and love from “Being Human” and such.

  9. Pinky
    May 9, 2012 at 8:12 PM

    I read about the aquatic ape theory in my college anthro class. It doesn’t concern modern mermaids, of course, but it’s not completely insane. There are simply no fossils to back it up. It does explain much about our own physiology, however. The idea is that WE are the aquatic apes.

  10. Pinky
    May 9, 2012 at 8:22 PM

    I am curious what they’ve (presumably) dug up, I have to admit. I hope it’s a tooth… lol. Even reputable paleoanthropology more resembles a creative art more than a science at times.

  11. Harry
    May 28, 2012 at 5:30 AM

    You know which part really made me go “Oh man is this fake?”

    In the cell-phone video the “mermaid” looks absolutely terrifying as you literally tries to grab that kid.

    He would have nightmares for the rest of his life but, instead, in the “picture” he drew of it, it looks totally different: hand up in a happy “Hello” the creature is smiling, eyes wide. Nothing like the video at all.

    Shame on animal planet, which…used to of my most watched stations.

  12. Steve
    May 29, 2012 at 3:12 AM

    Hell ya that kid would of crapped his pants if that was real. I know I

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