Mumbai:My first tryst with mermaids was in kindergarten in a fancy dress competition. My aunt had created a fin out of yellow chart paper. When the 2 feet something mermaid in me lost, I remember my aunt saying, “Mermaids are shy of humans, so they don’t accept prizes.”

Last week, I watched Mermaid, The Body Found, a programme that will air on Animal Planet on September 22 at 8 pm. In April 2004, two boys are the first to find whales, in large numbers, washed up on the shore of Washington state. Later, this was discovered to be the largest whale beaching ever witnessed.

Before reporting the incident, the boys spend some time wandering around the carcasses, and notice the presence of another strange creature, which was not a whale. One of the boys, who had a camera, captured footage of the sight, which was never made public.

This thrilling start, with an amazing background score, sets the pace for the 1 hour 28 minute film on the deep-sea acoustics recorded during the beach whalings in 1997 and again  in 2004; also known as the Bloop recordings. Viewers are likely to spot loopholes in the script, which words the film very tactfully. Those whose curiousity is piqued, however, will find it an interesting hour-long watch.
Paul Robertson and Rebecca Davis, a member from the team of marine biologist Brian Mccormick of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — a federal agency focused on the condition of the oceans and the atmosphere — come forward to talk about the findings.

When the trio reach the Washington state site, they see blood oozing out of the ears of the whales, which suggests trauma due to sound. Brian notices that the Navy had not carried out any autopsy. The internal organs were obliterated due to sonar testing conducted by the navy, the team concludes.

The team had lowered deep-sea buoys and recorded the acoustic sounds during the event. Apart from the animal calls of the whales and dolphins, a complex and intricate animal call caused curiosity.The film goes on to show records of a fisherman who had caught fish that had spears sticking out of their gut. A fisherman, who had set out deep fishing in the ’70s also shares footage of a human-like shape jumping out of the net. Could it be fudged?

The film alternates between interviews of the two scientists and an animation of the water life of this ‘strange creature’.  The animated film is well made, the sound effects supporting the deep-sea. In one scene, the mermaid is floating at a spot, and a shark attacks it from the bottom. It made me exit full screen, rip out my earphones and shut my eyes tight.

Forget about unravelling the truth, watch it for the effects.  The film, though fictitious, supports every scene with study reports, and scientific explanations from Davis and Robertson, and other experts who were brought in to work on the research. The trio takes their findings — a corpse — to a lab in Cape Town where similar incidents had occurred. The team ropes in experts in the field of skull recreation, biology and sound for their intervention, and they manage to recreate the mermaid.

Turns out, the US Navy confiscates their study, and the submission the team made to Cape Town lab, comes back with a report that the DNA samples were contaminated with human DNA. “It was Big Brother talking. He was rewriting history. Why?” asks Robertson, in one frame.

Back in Washington, Brian concludes that the mermaids travel with whales along migratory routes. “So we realised where to find them — where whales are anytime of the year.” The team sets out, hoping to make contact. Do they? To find out, watch the documentary.  Do I believe mermaids exist? I never doubted it since kindergarten. They just don’t want to be found yet.

Are they for real, or a fantasy out of Hans Christian Andersen's children's novel, The Little Mermaid? Watch Mermaid, The Body Found on Animal Planet on September 22 at 8 pm to find out.


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