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Protecting Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary’s Shipwrecks: An Opportunity for Collaboration



By Ariel Silverman
Header image courtesy of Matthew Lawrence/NOAA

Header image: Divers in the sanctuary may encounter areas with bountiful marine life. Here cod swim under the remains of a shipwreck covered with frilled anemones and other attached invertebrates

When policymakers face the challenge of protecting irreplaceable marine archeological sites, the fishing industry and conservation interests are often at odds. But they don’t have to be.

A diverse stakeholder group–including divers, historians, and fisherman–has united to protect the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary’s shipwrecks. They aim to preserve the irreplaceable historic resources in the Sanctuary while protecting fishermen and their gear from danger and damage. To accomplish these goals, NOAA is piloting the Shipwreck Avoidance Program (SAP). SAP is an innovative program whose purpose is to encourage commercial and recreational fishermen to voluntarily avoid disclosed shipwreck locations. 

Through a SAP initiative, NOAA published to the public the locations of 11 historic shipwrecks, reversing its previous policy of non-disclosure. In return, NOAA officials have requested that fishermen voluntarily avoid the designated sites. During the pilot phase, officials will monitor voluntary compliance to determine SAP’s effectiveness.

Fishing Near Wrecks Offers Possibilities for Profit and Danger

Sanctuary archaeologists have located 47 historic shipwrecks in Stellwagen Bank. Historical records indicate that at least 200 more historic and modern vessels that sank within sanctuary boundaries lie somewhere beneath the surface. 

The wrecks share Sanctuary waters with a fleet of commercial and recreational fishing vessels. Commercial fishing, including trawling and scallop dredging, is allowed in most of the Sanctuary and is regulated by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Fishing captains have found that trawling close to these wrecks can bring in a profitable catch of many species of fish that find refuge nearby. But, these benefits come with risks to the crew and their equipment.

Frank Mirarchi, a retired trawler fisherman and Sanctuary Advisory Council Member, supports SAP. “I have lost two nets and done considerable damage to several others throughout my career by encountering random pieces of wreckage scattered on the seabed,” he said. “Under poor weather conditions, entangled gear can capsize a boat, jeopardizing the crew’s safety,” he added.  

Protecting Irreplaceable Dive Sites

Many wrecks have been damaged or destroyed by commercial fishing gear. John Perry Fish is a sonographer and the co-discoverer of the Portland steamship, the sanctuary’s most iconic historic wreck and a memorial site for the 192 passengers and crew lost when it sank. He explained that, “Trawl nets and floats can become ensnared on wrecks like the Portland and remain at the site for decades.”

A 3D digital model of the Portland shipwreck shows that large portions of the bow are draped in fishing nets and lines. Photo courtesy of WHOI/MITech/SBNMS.

Wreck divers, like fishermen, have good reason to protect sites from further damage. Before SAP, shipwreck locations were not disclosed to the public because officials were concerned divers would remove or displace artifacts. This concern has greatly diminished with the help of divers’ advocate Heather Knowles, co-founder of Northern Atlantic Dive Expeditions, Inc. and Chair of the Sanctuary Advisory Council.

Knowles believes that divers are “fundamentally a conservation constituency.” She said that wreck divers want to see the sites up close and rarely disturb them. “After divers explore a wreck,” she added, “they want to know more about its history and see that it is protected.” Knowles is confident that SAP will help fishermen avoid hazardous sites while allowing more wreck divers to bring shipwrecks’ stories to the public. 

Preserving Non-Renewable Archeological and Ecological Resources

In addition to fishermen and divers, other marine sanctuary stakeholders are in support of SAP because of shipwrecks’ importance to archeological research and biodiversity.  

Sanctuary marine archaeologist Dr. Calvin Mires, an experienced wreck diver, believes that the public will care more about preserving shipwrecks when they better understand New England’s maritime cultural landscapes. Historic shipwrecks are “non-renewable resources” because they cannot be replaced once they are destroyed. While archeologists can learn about historical ship building techniques by studying a ship’s exterior, experts can achieve a better understanding of New England’s 19th century economy by studying a ship’s cargo. Mires believes the sites also share a deeply relatable human story. Ships like the Portland were “traveling hotels” in which crew, staff, and travelers lived and worked closely together. In many ways, New England’s historic maritime transportation industry lessened the strict socioeconomic hierarchy and rampant racial inequality of that time period: the industry offered high wages and interdependent working environments onboard. 

Shipwrecks provide shelter for a variety of species. This side scan sonar image shows a school of fish (cod and pollock) congregating by the wreck of the steamship Portland.  Photo by SBNMS and Applied Signal Technologies.

Additionally, NOAA officials are required by The National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA) and The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) to protect the sanctuary’s archaeological resources, including the submerged vessels. Conservationists and marine researchers also support protection because wrecks provide critical habitat and refuge for diverse marine life rarely seen elsewhere in the Stellwagen Bank. 

Heather Knowles believes that SAP also creates an opportunity for citizen science. Many wreck divers, she said, “are investing in sophisticated underwater cameras. As more sites are disclosed to the public and explored, these photographs can be shared with marine archeologists, shipwreck ecologists, and the public, helping to grow scientific knowledge about the wrecks.” 

Shipwreck Management to Encourage Voluntary Compliance

NOAA officials have concluded that a non-regulatory voluntary compliance program such as SAP is the best way to protect our nation’s maritime heritage while sustaining the fishing and wreck diving industries. Ben Haskell, Deputy Superintendent of the Sanctuary and SAP manager, explained that “This program gives the fishermen the opportunity to avoid the dangers associated with their gear interacting with shipwrecks while protecting these historic resources without the implementation of an added layer of regulation.”

NOAA officials currently utilize a combination of two existing satellite-based vessel tracking systems—the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) and the Automatic Identification System (AIS). VMS is required on all commercial trawl and dredge vessels and requires that the captains report their positions every 30 to 60 minutes. “The problem with this system,” noted Haskell, “is that position data do not reveal fine-scale positioning and whether a vessel has gone around or over a shipwreck site.” AIS is a vessel collision avoidance program that the US Coast Guard requires of all vessels over 20 m/65 ft. “The advantage of AIS is that it provides vessel positions every five minutes,” added Haskell, “but its disadvantage is that the system is not used on all fishing vessels since many are smaller than 20 m/65 ft. However, several smaller fishing vessels use AIS due to its safety benefits.”

Automatic Identification System data showing the tracks of four commercial scallop dredge vessels that fished in the vicinity of the four wrecks (yellow dots) on southern Stellwagen Bank in 2020. Photo courtesy of Michael Thompson/SBNMS.

The future of SAP and the sanctuary’s shipwrecks is still uncertain. If the program successfully encourages voluntary avoidance, NOAA officials will likely disclose the locations of more sites. By working together toward a shared goal, stakeholders can preserve these irreplaceable resources while sustaining fishing and wreck diving in sanctuary waters. 

For more information on SAP or to report a shipwreck location contact: ben.haskell@noaa.gov.

To view a list of the recently disclosed sanctuary shipwreck sites, click here.

Ariel Silverman is an ocean sustainability journalist and policy volunteer with Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. She is currently on a leave of absence from her studies at Harvard University.


Confessions of a Real-Life Entrepremer!

Professional mermaid Linden Wolbert, once dubbed “Mermaid to the Stars,” shares her personal journey from master diver into the watery world of mermaiding and exactly how she came by her tail. From edu-taining kids through mer-formances and her video series, “Mermaid Minute,” to her commercial film and photography work—did I mention Hollywood parties?—Mermaid Linden exemplifies the aquatic life well-finned. As a bonus, Vancouver’s Nerdmaid Faith offers a spe-shell mermaid resource guide. It’s enough to make you want to shake a tail (feather)!




by Linden Wolbert

Header image by Agustin Munoz

Predive Click: “Ocean Eyes,” Billie Eilish 🎶🎶

DISCLAIMER: The following passage is likely fraught with bad ocean puns. I can’t kelp it. Over the years, I’ve steadily amassed a rather over-whale-ming “Mernacular,” consisting of ridiculous, nonsensical and sometimes painfully cheesy “mermisms” and invented words. You’ve been warned, my fine-finned friend! If you dare, read on! Okay. Now where to start? Oh yes. Childhood.

When I was little, never in a million years could I have fathomed I’d become a mythical creature for a living. A half-fish, half woman, freediving globe-trotter? Nope. Dolphin-itely wouldn’t have guessed this career path.  Growing up in Amish Country Pennsylvania, and like many kids in various regions of rural America in the early 80’s, we didn’t have cable television at my house for quite some time. PBS, therefore, was my go-to selection from the three channel options we had, outside of reading books and sitting in the yard watching bugs and birds with my binoculars and a magnifying glass. 

Marty Stauffer and Jacques Yves Cousteau were two of my favorite “television teachers,” but my absolute favorite was (and still is) Sir David Attenborough. In my mind, he narrates my life! It’s far more interesting to watch an ant walk by, say, on the kitchen counter carrying a crumb, with Sir David’s unmistakable voice giving a thoughtful play-by-play on the whole scene, even if just in your imagination. You should try it. Super fun.

Not exactly a stone’s throw away from where I grew up, the Atlantic seemed pretty far out of reach. Embarking to see the ocean once or twice a year (if I was lucky) generally entailed something like the following: Very little sleep the night before in anticipation of a multiple-hour car ride with my parents and sister, followed by excitedly peering out the back window of the car for signs of the sea. Over the course of a few hours, the scenery would slowly morph. Cow pastures and corn fields gave way to highways and toll roads, then gradually to marshes, bridges and finally sand dunes. The best part was rolling down the car windows and smelling the sea for the first time on approach. Deep inhale….ahhhhh! The best! A colorful array of carnival rides would peek over the horizon, towering over the boardwalk like a toy model in the distance. Then there was the smell of the boardwalk: hot tar in the sun, french fries and deep-fried funnel cake punctuated with brine, salt and sunscreen. I get giddy just thinking about it!

In summer, my family would occasionally have a vacation in New Jersey or Maryland at the beach, which to me, was the stuff of dreams. Being anywhere near the ocean made me completely lose my little mind. I perceived the sea then (as I still do today) as a place of slow-motion beauty and mystery waiting to be revealed. A place where fantastical creatures frolic through the waves, tucking themselves away silently behind sea fans, rocks and corals to hide from predators and unexpected visitors. Tide pools were treasure box portals full of infinite possibilities—like little windows offering a teaser of what lay below in the fathoms. Sea anemones, small fish, mussels, clams, and the occasional horseshoe crab delighted me to no end. 

Mermaid’s purses (skate and shark egg cases) were my favorite prize to collect from the shoreline. I would sit, entranced, watching the bubbles surface in the tidal zone after waves passed over the sand in retreat back to the sea. This was evidence of little critters digging their way to safety from cackling gulls and the plovers who’d run across the sand like adorable wind-up toys in formation. After body surfing until we were exhausted, my sister would cover me in a pile of damp sand, carving out the form of a mermaid tail around my legs as I lay beneath the cool weight of my new encasement. I’d sit there with a huge smile across my face, somehow comfortable in my temporary sandy cocoon of immobilization, until I had an itch on my nose.  In my wildest dreams, I never imagined that my sand tail would one day be replaced by a beautifully crafted, prosthetic mer-sterpiece created by a Hollywood spe-shell effects artist, but I suppose stranger things have happened. 

Taking The Plunge

So how did I go from the aforementioned sea squirt, to becoming a professional mermaid, you ask? Sure, I’d been to the Jersey shore in the summers. I loved to swim, a family trait. I loved taking photos, and capturing little things I’d see in nature. These passions evolved into the realization that I wanted to become a wildlife cinematographer and to share these things I loved so much, just as Cousteau and Attenborough had done for me. I also thought, “What better place to work than in nature and the outdoors?!” And so it was. 

In 2000, I began my undergrad at Emerson College in Boston and majored in film and environmental science. I worked as an RA (mother hen in the dorm), repaired old 16mm film cameras called Bolexes in the basement of the school, and ran a jumbotron camera at the local concert stadiums to help pay for my tuition. I made my first underwater 16mm film on a Bolex I placed inside a fish aquarium, and filmed it at the local Chinatown YMCA swimming pool. I was beside myself with excitement when the film was processed and there was actually an image! In 2003, I left Boston for Los Angeles and enrolled in the Emerson College Los Angeles Internship Program. I haven’t left since. 

I was hired as the Residence Director immediately upon graduation—which, unbeknownst to me, would be the last “real job” I would have to date. Before I left Emerson in 2004, I got my PADI Open Water certification and was practically inseparable from the water. I could hardly bear to be in an office once I experienced the kelp forests first hand and then traveled to Grand Cayman to help film a documentary about the sport of freediving. Again, my love of the water grew. 

While in Cayman, I tried a monofin for the first time, thanks to Canadian World Champion Mandy-Rae Cruickshank, and the rest is history! At that moment, a huge light bulb went off.  What if, instead of creating documentaries like everyone else, I taught kids about the ocean as a MERMAID? And just like that, I made my first big leap. I left my very comfortable position at Emerson to start my business. Suddenly, in my early 20’s, I found myself living in a room above the garage at my parents’ house. No promise of work and no idea how this would all pan out. It was liberating and horrifying all at once. As I would learn, when I take a leap, a net magically appears. The saying is true! Never, of course, in a way I could have predicted. 

Cover photo by Karl Shreeves (2009)

The PADI training agency hired me as an underwater SCUBA model, and I traveled the world and got paid to dive with them. A dream! Around that time, I traveled to Tokyo and became certified as an International AIDA Judge for the sport of freediving. I was obsessed with the sport, yet had no interest in competing, so this was perfect. I got to observe world class athletes setting unimaginable records, travel to exotic locations, and master my freediving techniques from the best possible coaches. Life news flash: Toto, I don’t think we’re in Amish country anymore.

Suddenly, I was a first-time business owner with an idea for which there was no existing business model. It was a huge learning curve. Here are some of the skill sets and areas I have had to do my best to learn and manage over the past decade to keep my mermaid business flourishing: Performer, Filmmaker, Special Effects Artist, Product Designer, Model, Quality Controller, Makeup Artist, Negotiator, Accountant, Seamstress, Educator, Musical Composer, Editor, Aquatic Athlete, Web Designer, Childhood Behavioral Expert, Set Designer, Social Media Expert, Storyteller, Wish Granter, Marine Biologist, Citizen Scientist, Writer, Conservationist, PR Specialist, Brand Ambassador, Producer, Underwater Stunt Double, Director, Professional Mermaid, andI’m certain I’m missing something, but….you get the picture. Needless to say, I have acquired quite the hat collection.  

This job has taught me more than any office position ever could have and has provided infinite rewards! Is it horrifying at times, both creatively and financially? Absolutely! Do I have days where I question myself and wonder, “Am I completely mad for doing all this?” Bloody right I do! But then I realized what happened;somewhere along the line, I accidentally became an Entrepremermaid. Yes, it’s a thing—Entrepremermaiding. Okay, so I made it up. Now I cannot imagine living life any other way.

Quite a Tail to Tell

My very first tail, or as it is now called, “Tail 1.0,” weighed 35 pounds/16 kg by the time it was completed. Its replica, known as “tail 2.0” and my current work (sea) horse, weighs in at just shy of 50 pounds, but is neutrally buoyant (it neither sinks nor floats). Craziness, I know. The sea stars aligned when I decided I must make my first tail. Magically, a man by the name of Allan Holt was delivered into my sphere of existence thanks to our mutual friend Adam. Allan wanted to make an underwater music video, and Adam suggested he speak with me about the logistics. I had no idea until our first meeting over dinner, when Allan and I sat down to discuss his music video,  that he was a Hollywood special effects artist. He also happens to be one of the kindest people I know. He immediately expressed interest in helping me with my crazy dream: to create a realistic, swimmable, one-of-a-kind mermaid tail. Within a few months, we began the process.

Photo by www.mermaidsinmotion.com
Photo by www.mermaidsinmotion.com
Photo by www.mermaidsinmotion.com

It all started with a fiberglass mold of my body from the waist down, to make a duplicate of my legs. On top of my new, “fake legs,” we then took over 30 pounds of sculpting clay and began hand-sculpting each individual scale. The design of the tail fluke was next, which I had decided would be in the shape of a crescent. Why? Well, I had thought long and hard about how I wanted my tail to look. When I thought of traditional mermaid tails, I envisioned a dolphin-shaped fluke, or something similar to that of a whale tail. Deciding on a crescent shape was two-fold for me. First of all, I wanted to be unique. The shape should be something that, even if you only saw the silhouette of it from underwater, you’d know, “that’s Mermaid Linden.” 

Secondly, the fastest fish in the world have flukes that are similar to that shape….think: sharks, sailfish, swordfish, tuna, etc. I used a method which has since been coined as “biomimicry,” which means to be inspired by something in nature to make it function well for human use. Well, in this case, it was for mermaid use! And thank Poseidon, it worked. 

Over seven months and several thousand “sand dollars” later, we co-created my first born—my baby—Tail 1.0! After hundreds (or perhaps thousands?) of hours of clay sculpting, fiberglass-laying, bondo-slathering labor and love, that tail lasted me for almost a decade and swam in oceans, rivers, lochs, and pools around the world. It is amazing where that tail got to swim, and luckily for me, I got to experience those things because of it. Not only was this tail beautiful, sleek, and fitted perfectly to my form, it was unique. It was FAST. When I took it in the water, divers and strong swimmers with fins even had trouble keeping up. I learned quickly that unless we were filming something to demonstrate speed, I needed to intentionally slooooooow doooooown in this piece of fancy diving equipment. I’d call the Tail 1.0 a complete success! Since then, we have created two other tails from that same fiberglass mold. Tail 2.0, which is my current go-to silicone tail. Tail 3.0, which is made of a lightweight foam latex material, is a replica of its silicone siblings, and is intended strictly for land use and terrestrial performances.

Photo by www.mermaidsinmotion.com

Before tail 1.0 was even complete, I had begun getting bookings and “merformance” inquiries through word of mouth, thanks to people being aware that I was constructing a tail for almost a year. Here in Los Angeles, people love to have something at their party or event that nobody else has ever had. In the early 2000’s, nobody had heard of live mermaid performers for parties who actually swam. Sure, there were Ariel impersonators in long, green sequin skirts, but folks could scarcely believe there was some woman in her 20’s—a freediver—who donned a 35-pound silicone prosthetic tail and either taught your kids about the ocean during their birthday pool party, or swam as the centerpiece of your exclusive evening soiree in Beverly Hills with your celebrity friends. One party led to 10 others, and my client list became rather star-studded, rather quickly. 

One publication eventually deemed me, “The Mermaid to the Stars,” because so many of my clients were A-listers or on the silver screen, big-name directors or a big shot in the music or fashion industries. This was all rather unexpected to the girl from Amish Country. When I started this whole idea, the motivation for me was to teach children about our oceans, their inhabitants, and how important ocean conservation is. Little did I know I would additionally find myself in so many unexpected and unusual booking/ performance scenarios. 

Talking with Jeff Goldblum. Photo by Rupert Clague

Some of my “merformances” have included: Underwater Ring Bearer at a SCUBA wedding in La Jolla Cove, weekly swim playdate mermaid for the who’s who’s children of Hollywood, underwater stunt woman for various commercials, films and music videos, cameo mermaid performer in feature films, mermaid trainer for “Dive Bar” up in Sacramento, CA, among others, official Mermaid “Edutainer” at the world’s largest fair, the LA County Fair, with my own stage, big screen, and shell throne . . . it goes on and on. Let it be known that while I am absolutely a people person, I love working with kids the most. And this brings me to, fins down, my favorite type of booking: Wishes. 

When the Make-A-Wish Foundation first contacted me over a decade ago, I could barely get through all the nights and days until I’d get to meet the little girl who had made her mermaid wish known to the “Wish Fairies” who subsequently contacted me. This particular child wished to meet a mermaid, and then go to the Bahamas with her very own mermaid tail, so she could swim like a mermaid, too. After this first wish experience, I felt a sense of full-heartedness which was previously unmatched. I’m now convinced there is nothing quite like seeing a child’s face light up who has been through treatments and life-threatening circumstances for months, or sometimes years until that very moment. And, in that mer-ment, they forget all of that—the pain, the discomfort, the fluorescent-lighting of their hospital room, feeding tubes and blood tests—and they find themselves in a sort of suspended dream. 

Photo by Bloomberg Businessweek

As a highly empathic person, being part of that experience in any small capacity is life-rendering. Dozens of wishes later, I never could have dreamed I would be performing a wish for my very own family. Reese, now 13, is my one and only niece. She has been battling leukemia since age 7, and at the time of my writing this, is about to undergo a bone marrow transplant. Knowing now from first-hand experience how hard it is on the kids themselves, as well as the families of ill children, to go through these types of circumstances, makes it even more important to help fulfill these wishes. I know how they feel. So while my true passion is creating Ocean Edutainment for kids, I can say with absolute certainty that participating in Wishes is the most fulfilling, perspective-giving facet of my work as a mermaid. 

In A Mermaid Minute

Speaking of wishes, as luck would have it, while in the shower one day, I dreamed up what I thought was a brilliant idea for a children’s Ocean Educational series. It seems when I wash my hair and massage my brain (coral), it gives me great ideas in reciprocation—how kind of it! It was a simple premise: Each episode would be one minute about a topic in the oceans: an animal, phenomenon, or habitat. I would title this action-packed 60 seconds of ocean magic, Mermaid Minute

With zero budget, equipped only with sheer determination and unabashed passion for sharing the beauty of our oceans with my “little sea fans,” I managed to scrape together my first season of Mermaid Minute and post it on YouTube thanks to the help of some wonderful friends and family. I borrowed some lighting equipment, tripod, microphone and an HD video camera (which at this point was still on painstakingly annoying Mini-DV tapes) and purchased a heap of green felt from the fabric store to create a makeshift green screen to post in front of in my tail so I appeared to be sitting on the “beach.” 

Remember, I’d quit my one and only full-time job after college to pursue my mermaid career and moved into the room above the garage at my parents’ house as an adult child to start my mermaid business. It was the best thing I ever did! But yeah, not exactly the easiest thing as a grown adult. My neighbor helped me fine-tune my non-linear editing skills on Final Cut Pro, and I was off to the races. Over a decade later, Mermaid Minute has millions of views from all around the world, and season 2 overfunded on Kickstarter. Teachers began reaching out and using it in classrooms, and parents of homeschooling students employed it in their lessons. Friends with kids all told me how their children loved it, and to this day, it is the thing I am most proud of ever creating. All of my skills and passions are encompassed in it: Storytelling, cinematography, beautiful underwater footage, animals, science, natural history, music, sound effects, humor, and INSPIRING KIDS! What a joy it is when I complete editing an episode and post it up on YouTube!

About a decade ago, mainly because of Mermaid Minute’s success, I became involved with the Reef Check Foundation, an organization which has trained thousands of volunteer citizen scientists to count and track the changes of keystone species on coral and rocky reefs around the world. I had initially heard of Reef Check through a Howard and Michele Hall documentary I loved, “Coral Reef Adventure,” and was delighted when Reef Check contacted me. This eventually led to a position as a board member, and today I serve as the Co-Chair of the Board. 

Through the years working with Reef Check, I have met some truly amazing people who are like-minded in the world of ocean conservation, diving, and exploring our seven seas. Russ Lesser, the long-time former president of Body Glove, was one of those people. Thanks to Russ, I began a partnership with Body Glove in 2013 which led to an amazing opportunity: designing my own signature line of mermaid-inspired swim products for kids and adults. Yet another feather in the cap—er—scale on the tail of my Entrepremermaiding journey, I learned all about manufacturing, product design, prototype testing, marketing, and even inventing. 

Love Bucket Photo

I am so grateful and lucky that Russ saw such potential in me and my little brand. He said that the thing that really sold him on it all was my Mermaid Minute series. This meant the world to me! Since the inception of the Mermaid Linden by Body Glove line, our products have been sold in some of the world’s largest retailers, and our monofins are top-rated in their category of aquatics. I dreamed up the world’s first foldable monofin, which came to market last summer. Seeing kids, and now adults, around the world experiencing swimming with a monofin for the first time with my signature crescent fluke design makes me pinch myself. 

“How exactly did this all happen?” I sometimes ask myself this question. One could say the sea stars aligned for me time and time again, but I know how many challenges I’ve faced. Anyone who has tried their hand at self-employment in a creative space knows it isn’t easy. Back in the early days of my mermaiding career, I was the only one in Los Angeles doing what I did. Over time, tail makers started popping up. Other men and women saw that this could be a viable career, side hustle or a fun hobby, and other performance companies and solo “mers” began appearing online in social media pages and forums by the hundreds. A noticeable upward tick in the trend of mermaids in pop culture became very apparent. 

Photo by Courtney Pearson

Nobody is really sure where or why this happened, but within the span of a few years, mermaids were the new unicorns in the world of mythical trending. Mermaid mugs, greeting cards, t-shirts, and other mer-related chachki became commonplace in stores across the country, and soon the world. Instagram exploded with new profiles and accounts of “Mermaid (insert name),” and “Merman (insert another name),” with people showing off their newest monofins, shell tops, tails, and “mersonas” (mermaid or merman persona). Scores of others bought tails, created websites, and suddenly mermaids were popping up like mushrooms, vying for the same bookings and gigs in all corners of the world. 

Before you knew it, Mermaid Conventions became a thing! The mermaid trend had arrived, and it still shows no sign of slowing down. Sales and projected trends for mermaid tails and accessories continue to rise. Even the SCUBA and Freediving world caught the wave at last, with several training agencies now offering Mermaid Specialty courses, where men and women can learn everything from proper movement in a tail, to breath hold techniques, to finding your “mersona.” 

Photo by Ric Frazier Productions

It has been astounding watching the “Mermaid Economy” blossom since it all began for me in the early 2000’s. I remember looking all over for any clue on how to design a mermaid tail back then online, and there was zilch. Now you can find all manner of tails, from lightweight fabric tails to heavy silicone custom tails like my own. Extra flukes and fins? You’ve got it! Companies like Mertailor, FinFolk Productions, Merbella Studios and countless others create extraordinarily beautiful tails in all forms, budgets, and colors. Some even light up! The future of mermaiding is bright, and it’s also neat that nowadays, when I tell people my job title, they don’t always look at me like I have an octopus tentacle growing out of my forehead anymore. “Oh yeeeeah! I have a friend who’s a mermaid, too!” is the common response now. 

What a cool time to be a mermaid!

Additional Resources

Mermaid Linden’s YouTube Channel

Mermaid Linden’s Mermaid Minute

The Diver Medic Webinar: Linden Wolbert – How Edutainment plants seeds of Hope

DeeperBlue.com Podcast

Reef Check Foundation

Make-A-Wish Foundation

With a BA in Film and Science (underwater cinematography) from Emerson College in Boston, Linden shares the life aquatic with others via underwater wildlife videos and live mermaid performances. Mermaid Minute, her educational ocean web series for kids, “edutains” young viewers about an array of animals and sea life. Her passion is reaching as many children as possible with her message of conservation, education and exploration thereby transforming them into our world’s youngest ocean ambassadors. As a PADI Master Scuba Diver, underwater model and full-time professional mermaid through her company, Mermaids in Motion LLC, Linden would spend all of her time in the water if her hands didn’t get so pruny! A long time International AIDA Freediving Judge, she has traveled the globe to officiate world records that span far beneath the ocean’s surface. Linden serves as Co-Chair of the board of Reef Check Foundation, a co-host of the Webby Award-winning Deeperblue Podcast, and a Volunteer Mermaid for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

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Latest Features

by Linden Wolbert

So what is it exactly that mermaids “do” when they work a booking or do a “merformance?” Well, the answer is, more things than you can ever fathom! If I could only name all the funny, amazing, silly, scary and mermazing experiences I’ve had in a mermaid tail over the course of my career! Whale, if you insist...I could share a few examples...


Since my original reason for becoming a mermaid was to teach people, namely children, about the importance of protecting, exploring, and learning about our oceans, this category of performance is in my top 3! With this type of “merformance,” a mermaid is generally on land: in a shell throne, on a stage, in a classroom, or at a museum. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I get my own stage with a screen. Since one of my favorite modalities for education is using video, I love editing together videos about the local aquatic life (when applicable) and showing it to the children before I am revealed in mermaid form. 

Then I come out (usually I’m wheeled or carried out; I can’t walk in a tail, after all!) and answer the many questions about the creatures and habitats that the children ask. Typically, there are also a LOT of questions about mermaids, which I adore! Hearing and answering kids’ queries is one of the sweetest and most enjoyable experiences I have as a mermaid! I get to be quick on my fins. I had a residency for several years at the LA county Fair where I “edutained” thousands of children and families. It was an awesome feeling. The eyes of the children in the audience would light up as I was rolled out in my shell throne, and they excitedly raised their hands in the air with the hope of getting to ask me a question. Meet and greets are the best....these kids are just the SWEETEST!


We’ve all seen mermaids swimming in tanks or aquariums for many decades. In films, commercials, and at roadside attractions, they always bring that extra sparkle. Early pioneers included Esther Williams, the “Million Dollar Mermaid,” and the famed Weeki Wachee Mermaids of the Florida Springs, who each set a unique precedent for aquatic performances forever more! Naturally, this trend continued into the Tiki era after the war with cornerstone venues like Ft. Lauderdale’s world famous “Wreck Bar,” which, to this day, features porthole windows inside the bar, looking directly into the hotel pool. This particular attraction was brought back to life over 15 years ago, after temporary extinction, by none other than the bombastic and beautiful Medusirena: The Fire Eating Mermaid. Marina still choreographs and runs shows there today to delighted and tipsy audiences. 

At present, there are aquariums, restaurants, museums, resorts, malls and casinos all over the world who have regular mermaid shows and performances, adding to the magic of their offerings. From Singapore to Vegas to Paris to Los Angeles, these types of shows have enchanted audiences for years. Performers in intricate tails swirl about underwater in freeform or choreographed fashion, generally on breath hold, surrounded by fish, sea turtles and sharks in an enclosed aquarium habitat. This type of interactive merformance is more challenging than one would imagine. You really can’t see much, and everything is blurry. The water is sometimes chilly, making breath hold a real challenge. Stinging eyes and sinuses, paired with ear infections, are definitely a thing! Don’t be fooled. We’re smiling and making it look effortless, but we have foot cramps, burning eyes and sinuses, and are trying not to run into creatures swimming straight for us in the tank. That giant turtle, for example. “Why does he keep swimming right toward me?!?” 

A decade ago, “Dive Bar” opened in Sacramento, CA, where I was honored to train the mermaids and mermen before they opened to the public. The lively venue features a beautifully illuminated and prop-adorned tank which runs the length of the bar, suspended high above the floor for onlookers to peer up, mouths agape, and beer in hand. It’s pretty mermazing. If you’re in the Sacramento area, you should dolphinitely check it out!


Summertime is chock full of this very popular type of merformance! When the weather is warm, and people’s backyard pools are open, the mermaids come out in pods! Yes, children’s birthdays are a staple in any pro mermaid’s arsenal of services. Understanding, of course, that multi-million dollar liability insurance coverage is imperative, and lifeguard first aid certification is also key. Safety comes first. 

There are times when I am swimming in a pool and entertaining more than 30 children for more than two hours at a time (don’t worry, there are always additional lifeguards). And, believe it or not, I LOVE it. Is it exhausting? Yes. It is magical? Also, YES! This is where it’s excellent to have skills in projecting one’s voice, being skilled at commanding attention of little “sea fans,” as I call them, and having the patience of a saint. Each child will beg for the mermaid’s constant attention, but the birthday child(ren) of honor must remain the central focus, all while engaging the rest of the kids for the entire duration of the event. Not an easy feat, especially when you are wearing a tail and parents are watching like eagles. 

I bring a treasure chest full of goodies and activities for in-water, and an inflatable shell throne for storytelling, photos and eco-glitter tattoos while out of the water. I bring my monofins for the kids to experience, and provide all manner of games and interactive fun to keep little mers engaged. I have a playlist of songs on a waterproof speaker that livens up the vibe, and helps me keep track of how long the merformance has run. Lots of stories and tricks.....it’s not your ordinary kid’s party princess experience....trrrust me! And, inevitably, I weave ocean edutainment into every event. It’s my job ☺


Sharks and Dolphins and Whales, oh my! Open ocean mermaiding is always a riveting experience.  Working in an environment where both the elements and animals are unpredictable, you never know what will happen. I’ve been mermaiding in the Atlantic, Pacific, the Coral Sea, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Sea of Cortez and beyond. I have been surrounded by Great Whites (in a cage, of course) off Isla Guadalupe, swept over by manta rays in Kona, Hawaii, been stung in the eye by golden jellyfish in Palau’s famous Jellyfish Lake (don’t believe them, some can still sting a little bit!), dwarfed by Whale Sharks off Isla Mujeres, kissed by a manatee in the Bahamas, and enveloped by schools of Mola Molas off the California coast.

Each experience holds its own special memories and challenges. One of the downsides of true mermaiding is that mermaids don’t wear eye apparatus! Masks and goggles are not exactly “in style” in the mermaid world...so vision is compromised. This does make things interesting when one is diving with, for example, sharks. Big, gray blurs are gliding by...it’s hard to say how closely. Depth perception is all but lost, and this includes estimating distance to and from the surface of the water while holding ones’ breath and diving several tens of feet down and back up again. Cue internal mermaid dialogue: “How long till I reach the coral reef below? Okay, I’ve equalized my ears four times already....I think that’s the camera man over there. Yes! I think those are his bubbles. Getting closer, OOH! I’m here! 

The reef is suddenly kind of in focus. Okay, that blur over there looks like a big fish...or is that a small shark? I’ll just glide over here next to this colorful blur that must be a sea fan or coral head. I’m sure it’ll look pretty on camera. Keep smiling, relax your face...okay....Oooh! I think that’s a school of fish around here! FUN!!! Hi guys!!!! Okay, do a graceful turn, head back toward the brightly colored thingy....okay....getting ready to head back up to the surface now, diaphragm is starting to contract.....keep smiling....now turn for the surface. Kicking slowly up....slowly....When can I take another breath? Hmmm....hard to say...now? Nope...not yet....now? The surface seems to be getting closer....Still no. Keep kicking...keep smiling, don’t rush....ignore your diaphragm and that urge to breathe. Elegant kicks, not too much knee bend....begin to exhale before your surface so you can take a precious breath....still kicking...still not there....releasing bubbles....BOOM!!!! Surface...BREATHE! Ahhh, I can see clearly again! The 50 pound silicone tail propels me anywhere I wish for it to. And repeat....


When I began my mermaid career, I never could have dreamed of some of the people I would be performing for and that they would become my repeat clients! As it turns out, however, celebrities are just people, too. And, to be honest, I get more excited and “sea star struck” about seeing ocean creatures in the wild for the first time, so it works out great for everyone. When I’m welcomed into [fill in the A-list celebrity]’s home, and subsequently their swimming pool before their big soiree begins, it’s sometimes surreal. People I’ve watched for years on TV or the silver screen are suddenly clients who text me for parties at their mansions, or to do playdates for their children and their friends on weekdays. 

I have a long list of clients whom I cannot name, because non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are very common here in Tinseltown. I am also notorious for not recognizing famous people. I will leave an event with my wrangler (assistant who carries me, helps me out, and often drives me home if I can’t see well enough after chlorinated swimming) and they will say, “Holy carp! I can’t believe so-and-so took their picture with you and Tweeted it!” and I have no idea who they’re talking about until they show me on IMDB. I think this may be why they keep hiring me...because I genuinely don’t know or care who they are. 

The Hollywood elite’s pools are usually rather extravagant; underwater speakers that play music, impeccably heated to my contract minimum of 85 F degrees, waterfalls, grottoes and LED color-changing underwater lights adorning the water at night...and my favorite: saline chemistry (my eyeballs say thank you)! What people don’t realize is one of the hazards of not wearing a mask or goggles in a pool, is your eyes never know what will hit them. There are times when, at the end of a long performance, I cannot see clearly enough to drive home, thus the ever-necessary wrangler/assistant. Pool chemistry is a make-or-break. Also, if the pool isn’t up to temperature, it can be pretty awful, especially during a nighttime event when there is no sun to warm you up. And yes, there is a clause in my contract that states I may exit the pool at any time if it is not up to the contract minimum temperature. My favorite clients know this, and heat it to a balmy 90F+ for me, and they will remark, “I heated it up real nice and warm for you this time, Mermaid Linden!” I certainly do appreciate that, thank you very much!


This category swims fin-in-fin with Hollywood parties in a tangential way. I have appeared in music videos, television commercials and even a few feature films over the years either as a mermaid or an underwater stunt double. A while back, I was called to appear as a mermaid in a pool scene of the remake of Billionaire Boys Club, starring Taron Egerton, Ansel Elgort and Cary Ewles (my childhood crush, who played the role of Westley in The Princess Bride) and Kevin Spacey. 

Of course, I knew I could die happy if I were appearing in a film also starring the Dread Pirate Roberts, so I said, ever-enthusiastically, “Yes!” to the opportunity. I filmed a whole underwater scene in the pool with Egerton, which sadly ended up on the cutting room floor. I also sat by the pool in a party scene at a pool high in the Hollywood Hills, flapping my tail so hard, it cracked the polycarbonate fluke inside of it midway through the shoot. I felt it happen, and was devastated. The cost of the repair ended up eclipsing the entire pay for the shoot, but such is life with a silicone prosthetic tail. It required major surgery. But....Cary Ewles!!! And I made it into the trailer. 

I’ll also never forget how the news broke during the shoot that David Bowie had died. As an homage, the directors scored the pool scene with Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” Another very cool experience was being underwater stunt double to music star Avril Lavigne for her hit song and music video Head Above Water.” I had to wear a flowy dress, high-heeled boots and a rather complicated wig. I jumped repeatedly into the pool, swirling about in the heavy dress fabric and clunky boots (not easy, I might add) while trying to obscure my face with my arms and the wig. The video turned out beautifully, and nobody knew it was me!

No matter what type of event or performance I’m booked for, I always learn something, meet new people, and create new memories. One day, I must write a book about it all....and there is so much more to come!

By Faith Brownlee

Are you fin-trigued by mermaiding? Check out some of the links below to get started, sourced by myself, a long-time mermaid YouTuber specializing in growing the mermaid community through my product reviews! 


If you want to be inspired and watch/listen to/read about mermaids both real and fictional, look no further than some of my personal favourites!

Everyday Mermaid Podcast

Courtney Mermaid YouTube Channel

Fins Magazine

H2O Just Add Water



Some of my top recommendations for tails, monofins and more!


Perfect for beginners!


A great variety of tails for any type of mermaid!

Shop Vancouver Mermaid   

Custom and premade tails and gear for living life #somermaid


Monofins used by mermaids for years!


Education/Professional Development:

Mermaiding can take many forms - here are some great virtual and in-person training opportunities to take you from beginner to pro!

Beginner Mermaid Tail Safety - Haley Mermaid

LA Mermaid School - Sheroes Mermaid Entertainment 

Mermaid Dream Retreats/Experiences - Mermaid Lila

So You Want to be a Mermaid?Raina/HFX mermaid



Dive on into the mermaid community! Meet and learn from those who have the same niche passion of swimming and working in mermaid tails!


California Mermaid Convention

Mermaid Mania Facebook Group

The Mernetwork Forum

Faith is 23 and lives in Vancouver Canada. She has been a mermaid since 2014 and has a following of over 30k subscribers on her YouTube channel where she passionately shares about her hobby of swimming in mermaid tails! Between amassing over 40 mermaid tails and running her local mermaid group Mermaids of BC, she's thoroughly invested in the community and always wants to bring new people in. Thankfully, her family and boyfriend Bryson are extremely supportive and have been known to join her in her mermaid shenanigans. 

Her human skills involve lifeguarding, swim instructions and event management as well as playing the bass. You can find her anywhere on social media as @nerdmaidfaith 


Photo (top) by Courtney Pearson. Portrait photo by Maro Moments Photography.