In 1989 one of the most beloved animated movies was released: The Little Mermaid. Our hearts were touched as we saw Sebastian the crab singing to Ariel, the mermaid, about the magic of living underwater. Yet, for all his words, she still did whatever it took to become human.
A similar situation happened in nature, though this wasn’t the imagined mermaid with a naked torso and a beautiful fishtail enchanting sailors along the way. This was an aquatic ape.
This theory was first suggested by Max Westenhofer in 1942. In 1960, marine biologist Sir Alister Hardy resumed the study. Eventually feminist writer, Elaine Morgan, brought the hypothesis into the conversation again when she published the book The Descent of Woman in 1972. Despite this research is seen as pseudo science, Morgan continued writing on the subject in The Aquatic Ape, The Scars of Evolution, and The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis.
The supporting evidence that tries to prove the theory true lies in the existence of hominid fossils in coast of East and South Africa. The need to find food sources as well as avoid predators forced them to find refuge in the sea. Eventually they developed body parts that would ensure their survival in both land and water.
The main arguments for this theory are related to the physical elements. Those who support this theory hold that, due to these hominids’ aquatic lifestyle, their bodies eventually evolved into a more hairless version, as our current human form. Unlike other animals, humans chose to walk on two legs instead of four, often causing us several medical problems and discomfort. It’s possible that the aquatic ape also walked on two legs.
Breathing is also an important factor. Humans and aquatic mammals have a similar respiratory system that allows us to control our breathing at will within our ecosystem. The aquatic ape would’ve had the ability to inhabit both land and sea.
Body fat might have been higher in the aquatic ape, compared to other species, since their likeness to humans meant they stored it for movement. Earthbound mammals hibernate and store fat only until their use is necessary. When they no longer need it, they release it. Tears and sweat are biological processes that also support this hypothesis. The aquatic ape is believed to have thumbs and index fingers like humans.
Within this theory there is a point that confirms they had their own form of language, not as developed as that of humans, but just as complex. All these supposed facts sound like solid proof that the aquatic ape is our direct ancestor.
However, those who disagree with this theory argue that there are no actual fossils of this animal. They also contend that no aquatic mammal walks on two feet, as well as several ocean animals being covered in fur, like otters and beavers.
The theory was discarded until, a few years ago, several studies suggested that it was possible for aquatic animals to develop languages and evolved limbs, such as the fishtail.
Perhaps in the end, like Ariel, these animals chose to stay on the surface, eventually becoming human. While it’s possible that mermaids remained at the bottom of the ocean for millions of years, scientific studies point to this theory being only pseudoscience given its lack of proof. While the theory sounds mysterious and exciting, this is no excuse to forgo actual facts in favor of a more imaginative ideal. After all, in the pursuit of scientific discovery, proof is imperative.
Translated by María Suárez