Professional mermaid-ing is a highly specialized, fiercely competitive job that’s swimming with a school of inner child-thrilling rewards, pun most definitely intended. Depending on a mermaid’s employer, location, and experience, job perks can include working with children, wearing incredibly ornate uniforms, getting paid to dance underwater, and swimming with jellyfish (and sometimes sharks) on a routine basis. Though mermaid gigs are largely unadvertised, there are a surprisingly large number of opportunities to fashion a career as a real-life Ariel.
(Weeki Wachi mermaid | Photo Credit: Rain0975/Flickr)
The 20-mermaid roster at Weeki Wachee Springs — a 68-year-old Florida tourist attraction around an hour from Tampa — is kept busy performing as many as three shows, seven days a week. Primary job functions include being able to eat, drink, breathe (via tube), and perform musical numbers and synchronized swimming routines underwater. Mermaids perform for large crowds while submerged 20 feet under the water, in a 400 square-foot theater filled with sea creatures including sharks and turtles. (Weeki Wachee receives 175,000 visitors a year, and Elvis himself reportedly swung by to “flirt with the mermaids” back in 1961.)
(Weeki Wachi spectators | Photo Credit: Rain0975/Flickr)
Because mermaids are essentially entertainers, those who prefer to swim solo require a more aggressive entrepreneurial drive in order to get enough customers to pay the bills. Case in point: Linden Wolbert, a 34-year-old, Los Angeles-based mermaid mogul who translated a bachelor’s in film and science from Emerson and a background as an underwater model into living proof that childhood dreams really can come true.
“I just kind of dreamed up this idea of what I wanted to do,” Wolbert told HuffPost Women of her occupation. “Swimming is my favorite thing in the world.”
Thirty-nine-year-old Hannah Fraser is another mermaid entrepreneur.
“Being a professional mermaid is a SELF-CREATED job,” says Fraser. “There are no schools you can go to, or agents that will find you specific mermaid work. You have to be self-motivated and creative in your approach to making it happen!”
A Day in the Life
Different mermaids have different routines, but a typical day for Wolbert, the self-dubbed “top ‘edutaining’ Mermaid Performer” in the world, might include mermaid-ing at a Hollywood party or corporate event, designing silicone “Monofins” for her online “mer”-chant shop, or, her favorite part of the job: filming Mermaid Minute, an educational video series that teaches kids about ocean conservation and water safety.
(Mermaid Minute #1: Meet a real mermaid! | Video Credit: Mermaid Linden/YouTube)
Skills and Qualifications
Mermaids require an interesting combination of creative and physical prowess. Acceptance into the elite Weeki Wachi brigade is dependent upon a somewhat rigorous audition process; assessed criteria includes swimming skills and the candidate’s capacity for making attractive expressions underwater. Applicants come from around the globe and tryouts can be cutthroat:
“(S)enior mermaids can tell in five minutes if a would-be mermaid is comfortable enough under water to make the cut,” according to The Tampa Tribune.
Those who actually do “make the cut” must then reportedly complete a challenging three-month training program before they can even think about dipping their monofins into the springs.
“Most mermaid applicants never make it to the training,” according to the Tribune.
Once a mermaid has graduated to the spring, tank, or pool, she needs enough stamina to swim for long periods of time. The Weeki Wachi mermaids perform three to four 30-45-minute shows per day up to seven days a week, according to one source. This is on top of dry-land duties such as meet-and-greets and photo ops.
Going a solo route like Wolbert also takes self-motivation, business savvy, and an ability to thrive in a self-imposed structure. Unsurprisingly, a mermaid also benefits from a flair for theatrics and a youthful spirit. Weeki Wachi mermaids lip-synch, enact intricate narratives, and stay in character outside of the water.
“I come to work, and I am a mermaid,” explains Weeki Wachi mermaid Lauren Dodson, who hails from a mermaid family. (Her mother was a mermaid in the ’70s). “I go home, and I dream about being a mermaid,” Dodson continues. “You get sucked into it sometimes.”
Drawbacks and Occupational Hazards
Being a real-life mermaid is not all fun and games. As a whole, professional mermaid-ing necessitates a diverse, sometimes hard-to-come-by skill set and the job can be both physically and mentally taxing. For example, in addition to knowing every word of The Little Mermaid by heart, Wolbert is an experienced, scuba-certified swimmer capable of diving 115 feet in a single breath.
The extensive amount of time Weeki Wachee mermaids spend underwater must make pruney fingers and toes a given, and the spring’s chilly: 70-degree water presumably also leads to the occasional cold. Tails can also be heavy (roughy 15 pounds).
Weeki Wachi mermaids also have a number of undesirable duties to fulfill when they’re not swimming or schmoozing. The Tribune reports that mermaids do everything from scrub algae from the underwater castle to take out the trash. The mermaids are also required to unzip their tail only in private, away from the paying customers, and to wear full makeup at all times.
Dry or stinging eyes is another consistent occupational hazard. “Blurred underwater vision is … part of being a mermaid,” Wolbert confirms. “This sometimes presents challenges while diving with animals, as you may imagine! I have been stung in the eyes by jellyfish, and been so blinded by some chlorinated pools that I cannot see clearly when I get out!”
At times, animal-related occupational hazards can be downright deadly. Hannah Fraser, who can dive 50 feet and hold her breath for two minutes, once spent five days swimming with 16-foot tiger sharks — the most dangerous sharks in the world — in an effort to raise awareness about international shark killing.
The ocean activist reportedly wore camouflaging body paint in lieu of protective gear, and even said goodbye to her family in case she didn’t return. (Frasier has also swum with great whites, humpbacks, manatees, stingrays, dolphins, and sea lions, among other sea animals.) Fraser’s tiger shark mission was filmed for as part of an upcoming documentary, “Tears of a Mermaid.” Check out this behind the scenes clip:
Lastly, while professional mermen do exist, the field is predominately occupied by women.
Given the unorthodox nature of the occupation, mermaid compensation varies according to the particular role and employer, especially for self-employed mermaids who dictate their own pricing.
Weeki Wachi mermaids reportedly start out at only minimum wage and often moonlight with second jobs in order to be able to mermaid during the day.
A Missouri-based mermaid named “Mermaid Kaitey” offers clients party packages with base rates between $100-$300, plus optional add-ons, such as personalized party videos, digital photo packages, and mermaid-themed gift bags.
According to Kaitey’s website, a basic one-hour children’s birthday parties goes for $150 and comes with an hour of mermaid swimming, “games and lessons on swimming like a mermaid,” a brief photo op, and mermaid back rides, “if shallow water is available.” She also offers wedding officiating services and adult party packages on dry land.
Wolbert counts ocean creatures as co-workers as a meaningful perk:
“Looking in the eye of a whale took my breath away,” she writes on her site. “Diving with sharks is magical and unlike anything else,” she continues. “Being surrounded by thousands of pulsing jellyfish is like a dream! Hearing dolphins clicking and squeaking underwater in the Pacific is beyond description. Whale sharks are so large and gentle, and it is hard to believe their size in person; or the beauty of their speckled skin.”
(Video Credit: adventures for two/YouTube)
When it comes to professional mermaid’s status as an inner child-thrilling occupation, the world’s most famous uncompensated mermaid (and crab) sum it up best:
(The Little Mermaid – Under the Sea | Video Credit: Disney/Vevo)
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