HCA NEWS American mermaids threatened with closure

Ten American mermaids in the State of Florida may soon be without jobs. The American natural park that serves as the framework for their performances has become antiquated and must be renovated to avoid closure. This has spurred locals to rally around their mermaids.

By Mikkel Stjernberg - H.C. Andersen 2005 - 09 September 2003

Weeki Wachee Springs is located just under 100 kilometers north of Tampa, Florida. It is one of the state's characteristic natural parks and has served as an entertainment attraction for millions of Americans since the 1940s.

It had its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s but, in recent decades, has had to watch tourists flock to more modern amusement parks elsewhere in the state. For example, Walt Disney World.

As a result, today, Weeki Wachee cannot afford to implement renovations and the park's condition is now so poor that authorities are threatening to close down the park and put the local mermaids out of work.

Dances with alligators
For Weeki Wachee is particularly known for its underwater ballet, which is performed by mermaids twice a day in the park's underwater theater. The mermaid ballet is based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairytale "The Little Mermaid," lasting 30 minutes. It puts bread on the table for ten female swimmers and one male, who plays the prince in the ballet.

The underwater theater was created around a natural spring in the park that is directly connected to the swamps around Weeki Wachee. Therefore, the mermaids must share their theatre space with local underwater fauna and the natural animal life in the area.

Including various fish, turtles and alligators, which at regular intervals swim into the underwater theater. When an alligator shows up, the mermaids take a break in their performance, until it leaves.

Old technology
Local authorities are worried about the aquatic environment at the park. The natural spring in which the mermaid ballet is performed pumps out 400 million liters of water a day and the technology connected to the underwater theater dates back to just after the Second World War. It is simply not modern enough to ensure a clean environment in the area.

Therefore, the 29-year old director of Weeki Wachee, Robyn Anderson, who was formerly a mermaid herself, has sent out the call, hoping to raise funds to preserve the park and, according to the news bureau Reuters, she already has great support for the project. However, it is still too early to predict the outcome of the fundraising attempt.

$6.50 an hour
A mermaid at Weeki Wachee earns $6.50 an hour and, in addition to two half-hour performances every day, the mermaids have to scrape the algae from the glass through which the audience watches the show, as well as other duties that may arise.

On the other hand, they do not have to have air tanks on their backs, when they work. The underwater theatre is equipped with special hoses from which the swimmers may get oxygen without having to go to the surface.

To be a mermaid at Weeki Wachee, you have to be an unusually good swimmer and there is an additional training period of up to five months. Then, the swimmers are able to eat and drink under water, which they have done on occasion for the audience.  Though not as a part of the performance of "The Little Mermaid."

Most of the mermaids only stay on the job for a few years.