Animal Planet managed, once again, to captivate viewers with a sequel to its 2012 fictional documentary "Mermaids: The Body Found." "Mermaids: The New Evidence," aired on Sunday, gave the channel its biggest audience ever, 3.6 million viewers.
It adopted a documentary style to simulate a presentation of real-life body of evidence that mermaids exist, and in spite of a previous warnings by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it managed to fool millions and spark a debate about the mythical creatures on Twitter.
When Animal Planet aired "Mermaids: The Body Found" last year, it scored for the cable channel the highest ratings since 2006, the LA Times reports.
Digital Journal reported in July 2012 that after the first special aired in 2012, NOAA released a statement in response to hundreds of inquiries it received about whether mermaids really exist:
Mermaids — those half-human, half-fish sirens of the sea — are legendary sea creatures chronicled in maritime cultures since time immemorial... The belief in mermaids may have arisen at the very dawn of our species. Magical female figures first appear in cave paintings in the late Paleolithic (Stone Age) period some 30,000 years ago, when modern humans gained dominion over the land and, presumably, began to sail the seas. Half-human creatures, called chimeras, also abound in mythology — in addition to mermaids, there were wise centaurs, wild satyrs, and frightful minotaurs, to name but a few.But are mermaids real? No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found."
It is surprising that even after NOAA's statement meant to clear the air about the absurdity of a half human-half fish creature, the sequel still attracted a large audience of believers and delivered the cable channel a new ratings record in its 17-year history.
The "mockumentary" was presented by biologist Dr Paul Robertson who claimed to have obtained new footage of the mythical creature shot near Greenland last spring. But the show, unknown to millions who saw it, was a carefully crafted hoax.
Dr. Paul Robertson, who presented the video "evidence" of mermaids cavorting in cold northern waters, had stated that they deliberately presented the "evidence" in documentary form to make it enhance the credulity of unwary views. He said: “I wanted the story to appeal to a sense of genuine possibility, and incorporating real science and evolutionary theory and real-world scientific examples — such as animals that have made the transition from land to sea, much as we suggest mermaids did — and citing real, albeit controversial theories like the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis, grounded it. Using a straight, documentarian approach made the story more persuasive by appealing more to a sense of intellectual possibility as well as emotional possibility."
The show began with what appeared to be a footage of a mermaid perched on a rock.
It featured an exclusive interview with a former NOAA scientist who appeared willing to stake his professional reputation on the existence of mermaids. He suggested that the NOAA statement was part of a government cover-up.
However, the film makers did include a statement that the film was "science fiction" based on "scientific theory" (an artfully crafted equivocation), but they were careful to place the statement as a "blink-and-you'll-miss it" disclaimer at the end of the program.
The most compelling "evidence" tendered was a video shot by a paranormal investigator Stephen Hannard, that shows a team of deep sea divers in a submersible. Webbed fingers appear suddenly and touche the craft's viewing screen. The creature display briefly, a humanoid face as it swims away (see video above).
LA Times notes the irony of the stark contrast between the massive viewership that the fake documentary attracted and comparatively meager attention that real-life experience based productions of the channel, such as "Meerkat Manor" and "Puppy Bowl," attract.
A lively debated raged on Twitter after the "documentary" with many users appearing to have been fooled by the "evidence." Users tweeted:
"Both documentaries, Mermaids: The Body Found and Mermaids: The New Evidence have sufficient proof."
"#NW Mermaids: The New Evidence. Go ahead and tell me mermaids aren't real after watching that special."
"Did y'all see MERMAIDS the new evidence???? there are mermaids out there for sure....!!!!!"
According to LA Times, Marjorie Kaplan, Animal Planet's president and general manager, said, "The phenomenon of 'Mermaids' has truly been a watershed -- and a watercooler -- moment for Animal Planet. These extraordinary television specials have electrified, challenged and entertained television audiences and online fans alike."
The executive producer, Charley Foley, told ABC: "We wanted people to approach the story with a sense of possibility and a sense of wonder. Hopefully that's what 'Mermaids' allowed viewers to do... allowed them to suspend their disbelief."
According to the Huffington Post, NOAA, long suffering as ever, issued yet another statement, saying: "'Mermaids: The New Evidence' is just entertainment. No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found."
They might as well begin preparing a third statement. According to ABC News, Animal Planet is mulling a sequel to its latest success.