Animal Planet pulled a fast one–again. First they televised a “documentary” called Mermaids: The Body Found, on May 27, 2012, that breathlessly described the discovery of mermaids. It was trumpeted like this in a company press release:
Animal Planet’s Mermaids: The Body Found paints a wildly convincing picture of the existence of mermaids, what they may look like and why they’ve stayed hidden…until now … Now, in Mermaids: The Body Found, premiering Sunday, May 27, from 9-11 PM ET/PT, Animal Planet brings viewers into the world where the legend is real.
Not quite an admission of deception.
Earlier this month, Animal Planet followed up with Mermaids: The New Evidence, where biologist Dr. Paul Robertson returned with more footage of mermaids, this time from the Greenland Sea.
The executive producer of Mermaids: The New Evidence said he filmed the show as a documentary so people would think it was real. It worked; “Mermaids: The New Evidence” trended on Twitter.
Of course, the hoax worked wonders for Animal Planet’s ratings, but it also engendered a furious response from slate.com, which took the deception as a monstrous insult. In an article written by David Shiffman, a marine scientist, he said:
This week, Animal Planet aired two fake documentaries claiming to show scientific evidence of mermaids. I say “fake documentaries” because that’s exactly what “The Body Found” and “The New Evidence” are. The “scientists” interviewed in the show are actors, and there’s a brief disclaimer during the end credits. However, the Twitter conversation surrounding the show (#Mermaids) reveals that many viewers are unaware that the show isn’t real … “The Body Found” was rightfully described “the rotting carcass of science television” and I was shocked to see Animal Planet air a sequel.
He was quite upset, saying that interest in mermaids kept people from seeing the real problems facing the ocean:
As a marine biologist, I can tell you unequivocally that despite millennia of humans exploring the ocean, no credible evidence of the existence of mermaids has ever been found … When I started angrily posting about this on Facebook and Twitter, many of my nonscientist friends asked me why it matters if people believe in mermaids. It matters because the ocean is extremely important.
But there’s good news. Animal Planet has two more documentaries in the works; one on unicorns, and the second, long-awaited documentary on the real-life adventures of the Easter Bunny. Stay tuned.