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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

January 9th...This Day in History

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Columbus mistakes manatees for mermaids 1493

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On this day in 1493, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, sailing near the Dominican Republic, sees three “mermaids”–in reality manatees–and describes them as “not half as beautiful as they are painted.” Six months earlier, Columbus (1451-1506) set off from Spain across the Atlantic Ocean with the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, hoping to find a western trade route to Asia. Instead, his voyage, the first of four he would make, led him to the Americas, or “New World.”
Mermaids, mythical half-female, half-fish creatures, have existed in seafaring cultures at least since the time of the ancient Greeks. Typically depicted as having a woman’s head and torso, a fishtail instead of legs and holding a mirror and comb, mermaids live in the ocean and, according to some legends, can take on a human shape and marry mortal men. Mermaids are closely linked to sirens, another folkloric figure, part-woman, part-bird, who live on islands and sing seductive songs to lure sailors to their deaths.
Mermaid sightings by sailors, when they weren’t made up, were most likely manatees, dugongs or Steller’s sea cows (which became extinct by the 1760s due to over-hunting). Manatees are slow-moving aquatic mammals with human-like eyes, bulbous faces and paddle-like tails. It is likely that manatees evolved from an ancestor they share with the elephant. The three species of manatee (West Indian, West African and Amazonian) and one species of dugong belong to the Sirenia order. As adults, they’re typically 10 to 12 feet long and weigh 800 to 1,200 pounds. They’re plant-eaters, have a slow metabolism and can only survive in warm water.
Manatees live an average of 50 to 60 years in the wild and have no natural predators. However, they are an endangered species. In the U.S., the majority of manatees are found in Florida, where scores of them die or are injured each year due to collisions with boats.


(More Events on This Day in History)
  • American Revolution

  • 1776 Thomas Paine publishes Common Sense
  • Automotive

  • 1965 Bond movie features Aston Martin
  • Civil War

  • 1861 “Star of the West” is fired upon
  • Cold War

  • 1952 Truman warns of Cold War dangers
  • Crime

  • 1984 The Hillside Stranglers
  • Disaster

  • 1972 Fire breaks out on Queen Elizabeth
  • General Interest

  • 1768 First modern circus is staged
  • 1806 Nelson buried at St. Paul’s Cathedral
  • 1972 Queen Elizabeth destroyed by fire
  • 2007 Steve Jobs debuts the iPhone
  • Hollywood

  • 1976 Stallone starts filming Rocky
  • Literary

  • 1924 Virginia Woolf buys a house in Bloomsbury
  • Music

  • 1979 Pop luminaries gather at the U.N. for the Music for UNICEF concert
  • Old West

  • 1887 Record cold and snow decimates cattle herds
  • Presidential

  • 1913 Richard M. Nixon is born
  • Sports

  • 1972 Laker winning streak comes to an end
  • Vietnam War

  • 1965 Support is pledged to civilian government
  • 1967 U.S. officials try to counter claims of Saigon corruption
  • World War I

  • 1917 Battle of Khadairi Bend begins
  • World War II

  • 1945 United States invades Luzon in Philippines