By Camile Rocha-Keys
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Videographer / Director: Andres Aponte
Producer: Camile Rocha-Keys, Ruby Coote
Editor: James Thorne
With their own MerNetwork - a forum where merfolk can connect and organise conventions - and social media profiles of ‘professional’ mermaids generating hundreds of thousands of followers, the mer-community seems to be a a growing one.
Caitlin Nielsen, also known as Mermaid Cyanea, quit her job in 2015 to concentrate on being a mermaid full-time. The biology graduate uses her identity to promote her passion for ocean conservation and her knowledge adds realistic details to her mermaid persona.
The 32-year-old from Seattle spends her time swimming in lakes and posting videos and photos to her online following. She also has a workshop where she crafts handmade silicone mermaid tails.
Caitlin said: “When I was in kindergarten and the teacher asked everyone to go around and say what they wanted to be when they grew up, I said 'a mermaid.’
"Everyone laughed at me and now here I am - I’m a mermaid. I’m literally a real life mermaid.
"What inspired me to be a mermaid is hard to say. It’s actually the fact that I’ve always felt I was a mermaid.
"Ever since I saw Disney’s Little Mermaid when I was very young and I also watched the movie Splash with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah.
“Both of my parents are marine biologists, so I grew up knowing a lot about the oceans, spending a lot of time at the sea shores and really feeling like I was meant to be in the ocean, so when I saw mermaid movies it sort of resonated with me."
Caitlin identifies with being a mer-person so much that she likens her glimmering scales to a prosthetic limb.
She said: “I do feel like my tail is a part of me, and I do actually feel like it is a prosthetic limb.
"I sometimes joke that I wear a prosthetic because I was born with a terrible birth defect - which is legs.
“When my tail is off I feel a little bit awkward. Suddenly I have legs and I don’t know what to do with them. I feel extremely clumsy.”
There is a prevalent mer-community in Seattle. Her friends Ed Brown, Tessie LaMourea and Morgan Caldwell also identify as part-fish-part-human.
Being a merperson isn’t just a hobby for Ed, it has become a lifestyle.
Ed also identifies as being a non-binary, asexual person. The 24-year-old prefers to use the pronouns ‘they’ instead of ‘he.’
But becoming a merperson has helped the Disney fan come terms with their sexuality and the social anxiety it caused.
Ed said: “The best part of being a merperson is the chance to live out a dream or fantasy that a lot of people, especially kids, have. You know you can put on a costume and become a magical creature and be something other than who you are for a little while.”
Ed said: “I’m still being me but I’m being more of myself than I might feel comfortable with just in my day today life.”
As well as working on a boat, Ed - whose mer-name is Mahtlinnie - also lives on one, and spends most of his spare time effortlessly sliding through the water.
Like Caitlin, Ed was inspired by the idea of becoming a merperson as a child, particularly after watching the Disney film The Thirteenth Year.
Ed said: "Most merpeople have a movie or TV show that inspired them.”
Ed believes being the mythical-being is a chance to live out a dream, or fantasy, which allows them to temporarily escape from reality.
The merperson said: “You know you can put on a costume and become a magical creature and be something other than who you are for a little while.”
Environmental policy student Tessie agrees. She was inspired to become a mermaid ever since she attended a magical mermaid school in the exotic Philippines three years ago.
And once she slides her tail on and becomes Mermaid Essie, she claims her worries disappear and the magical feeling of invincibility and power arises.
Tessie, 24, said: “I have a lot of body insecurities, I think a lot of people do. When I am in my tail I don’t feel insecure anymore. Because it suddenly doesn’t matter what size I am because I am a mermaid and that is what people really focus on.
“When I take my tail off it almost feels like a piece of me has come off, that I am in a weird limbo.
It’s very vulnerable feeling. It is an odd feeling for sure.”
Using her mermaid status, she tries to promote ocean conservation and raise awareness through education.
The mermaid trio frequently swim together and join each other on themed photoshoots.
Ed said: “When I’m in the water with my tail on, it’s just like magic.
“I could never have a bad day swimming, no matter what happens. If I put on my tail, I have done swimming, it’s automatically good day."
As well as raising a few eyebrows at the local swimming pool, the merfolk’s friends and family have had to get used to the idea of having a fishy friend.
Although Tessie's mother is supportive, she finds the concept of being a mermaid ridiculous.
Tessie said: “When I told my mother that I wanted to be a mermaid, she just kept laughing at me. She thought it was hysterical and she never thought that I will actually end up doing it.
Tessie’s mother Cora LaMourea, said: “I thought it was a stupid idea first. I thought it was just going to be a waste of money and a waste of time. I thought her time could best be used studying as a graduate student than swimming with a tail.”
However, overtime, Cura has come to accept her daughter’s passion to be a mermaid and has even attended a mer-retreat and slipped on a tail herself.
She said: “I think she is in fantasy land when she is in her tail. It’s different than the reality of the hustle and bustle of being a graduate student. In the water she feels free, she feels there is nothing else more important than just swimming and be enjoy the moment.”
Although Caitlin isn’t married to a merman, her human husband, Kim Lomman, proudly tells everyone that he’s married to a mermaid.
Caitlin said: “My husband thinks it’s really awesome that I’m a mermaid. He has known about it since we first met.
“I’d probably look for merman boyfriend if I wasn’t already married to a human."
Kim said: "I think it was one of the first things she told me. At the time I had no real understanding of what that meant but she didn't seem too crazy so I just went with it.
"I have been a part of a couple mermaid get-togethers, as support, helper, and photographer.
"I'm proud to be married to Caitlin and mermaiding is a large part of who she is."
One of Ed’s neighbours, Thor Radford, claims the first time he saw Ed swimming alongside his boat, he thought it was a dolphin.
Thor, 47, said: “Everyone knows we get seals and what not, they will come into the lake and here comes this giant tail and up pops Ed. It shocked me, it was crazy.”
Being part of the mer-community isn’t just a phase for this trio, it is a way of life for now and forever.
Tessie said: “I do always see myself being a mermaid forever.”
Caitlin added: “Being a mermaid, I don’t feel that I’m hiding anything I really do feel like I’m being the true me.”
Caitlin, Tessie and Ed have dedicated their lives to becoming ‘merfolk’, and say they are never happier than when they are frolicking in the foamy waters.