The Dania Beach Mermaids

by Louise Irvine

Many WMODA visitors are having fun with our Mermaid Quest scavenger hunt to find all the mermaids hiding around the museum. Soon the scope of the scavenger hunt will widen to include the City of Dania Beach and under the waves. This summer, the 1000 Mermaids Project will deploy the first of their artificial coral reef installations in Broward County to provide new homes for underwater life. Dive into WMODA on Saturday, April 17 to hear about this exciting project in our community and meet Rhanu, our very own mermaid-in-residence.

Sea it. Live it. Love it.

Located less than a mile offshore from Dania Pier, the new reef will include mermaid sculptures for underwater selfie photos and 15 modules to provide sea life habitats and attract new coral growth. Above the waves, there will be mermaid selfie tails, like the one at WMODA, to hunt for around the city while learning about the important work of the Ocean Reef Alliance in our community. The 1000 Mermaids Project reminds us that we can positively impact the health of our oceans and reduce the stress on our coral reefs. You can support the Dania Beach project by commissioning turtle sculptures and sand dollar recognition plates to live forever under the waves, and by donating to the 1000 Mermaids Project, which is also a 501c3 not-for-profit organization.

Movie Mermaids

Florida has been renowned for mermaids since 1947 when the Weeki Wachee Springs opened as a roadside tourist attraction 45 minutes north of Tampa. From the Seminole language, meaning “little spring”, the crystal-clear waters of the sandy-bottomed natural pool plunge to a depth of 400 feet. The location proved ideal for an underwater theater with ballets and pageants inspired by the popularity of synchronized swimming. Breathing hoses were developed to allow the swimmers to stay underwater for long periods of time without an oxygen tank. Aquatic wildlife swam in for visits from the adjoining river, including fish, manatees, and occasional alligators, which prompted a pause to the spectacles.

Within a year, the park had attracted Hollywood producers who used the natural springs as a setting for the 1948 movie Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid. William Powell stars as the vacationer who goes fishing and reels in a mute and mischievous mermaid played by Ann Blyth. Peabody hides his alluring conquest in the resort’s fishpond, but his wife becomes suspicious of his infidelity with unexpected consequences. When Peabody consults his doctor after his mermaid encounter, he is persuaded that it was all a hallucination and part of a mid-life crisis.

Save our Tails

The film put Weeki Wachee on the map and the show entered its glamorous golden era in the 1960s when the swimmers began to wear mermaid tails in their performances. Before long, beauty contests were being staged at the attraction to find Florida’s Mermaid Queen. However, the arrival of Disneyworld in 1971 changed the face of Florida tourism and supporters had to rally to keep the mermaid attraction afloat with “Save our Tail” campaigns. In 2008, Weeki Wachee Springs and amphitheater became a Florida state park. The submerged auditorium has grown from 18 seats originally to 400 today, where the underwater stars perform their version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. The mermaids also perform underwater feats from the past six decades including eating and drinking underwater.

Mermaid Cocktails

In 1953, one of the mermaids from Weeki Wachee established the Marlin Beach underwater cocktail lounge show in Fort Lauderdale. The annual Holiday spectacular was a huge hit with “ice-skating” around the pool and a fully decorated Christmas tree. A few years later, the Wreck opened in Fort Lauderdale and attracted celebrity patrons, such as Joe Di Maggio and Marilyn Monroe to its underwater shows. The mermaid performer, MedusaSirena, revived the retro-aquatic shows at the Wreck in 2006 and they remain popular weekend programs.

Rhanu the Mershark

Rhanu, our mermaid in residence, swims at parties in South Florida in her fabulous Whaleshark tail. However, she is better known at WMODA for modeling Chelsea Rousso’s wearable glass and talking about marine conservation, particularly sharks. Dive into WMODA on Saturday, April 17 to meet Rhanu, aka Alex Barth, and explore our latest marine theme with our Mermaid Quest scavenger hunt, Wannabee mermaids can have fun posing with the Mermaid Selfie Tail on loan from the Ocean Rescue Alliance. Discover more about the 1000 Mermaids Project and watch sculptor Laurence Panadero create a beautiful mermaid in clay.

Read more about the Earth • Air • Fire • Water event on April 17