Mermaid Melissa Q & A

Mermaid Melissa Q & A

Mermaid Melissa meeting fans at Aquarium

Have you always had an affinity for the ocean and ocean life?
I grew up in Florida and as a kid the beach was one of the only things exciting to do in a small town by Saint Augustine. This led to beach clean ups after school, and any excuse I could, I would do a write up, or class project on the ocean. Marineland was also a huge favorite location to visit with my annual pass, and this brought me closer to wildlife and marine animals.

When did you start performing as a mermaid?
Growing up I was always called a mermaid because if I wasn’t at a swim meet at school, I was at the beach, an aquarium, or in my pool at home, or I was talking about the ocean. In 2005 I started putting up underwater videos online and the response was overwhelming. I had been making home movies and skits of me and friends at the pool, imagining we lived underwater. So to see that others enjoyed the underwater performances that I was putting out there motivated me to push this venture further. Having confirmation that people enjoyed watching something I loved to do, allowed me to have an outlet to show others what I love to do! I do believe you do not need a mermaid tail to be an actual mermaid… we are all one at heart if the passion is there for it! My actual tail didn’t take shape till I was an adult… but the mermaid was always there inside of me. So it took little effort to transition to an actual tail.

As a mermaid, what message(s) do you bring to regular land-locked humans?
As a mermaid I have an outlet to express just how important it is to “Save our oceans before all creatures become mythical.” It’s a slogan I came up with, and code I live by. I often speak publicly about conservation in both my professional and personal life to educate the public about how everything we do can work for or against the future outcome of our planet. Changes in our daily habits can help over time. Especially when it comes to recycling, energy conservation, and going green.

Can you talk about your experiences at Sea World, training dolphins and killer whales? What did these creatures teach you? How has this experience changed you, if it did?
I have hands-on experience with animals such as killer whales, dolphins, fish, sharks, stingrays, exotic birds and animals from around the world. I was a trainer, diver, animal ambassador and public speaker during my time working at both Sea World and Discovery Cove. Educating the public daily for four to eight shows a day, with up to 7,000 guests per performance.

Some of my favorite moments were those with guests after shows, talking about my experiences during a special private interaction called Dine With Shamu. My passion for talking with guests more one-on-one led to my being asked to be transferred to Discovery Cove which allowed me to have daily interactions with about eight people at a time in the water, teaching them about dolphins and answering questions about how to protect animals, their habitats, and the ocean. A program called “Trainer for a day” gave me a chance to take guests on a fun all-day hands-on tour and behind-the-scenes look into how we care for, rehabilitate, train, and maintain a high level of care for each animal. Getting to share my life as a trainer and meet guests from around the world who have been wanting to do this all their lives was exciting for me, being able to help dreams come true by introducing them to animals they have always wanted to meet, touch, and play with.

Some of the best memories I have are the bonds with both co-workers and the animals. The career field is not a 9 to 5 type of job, but more of a 24-7 life style… and it is life changing! You walk away every day learning more from the animals than you do from training them. One of the most popular questions I get is, “Can the whales and dolphins tell you apart?” The answer is, yes! It becomes clear whom they have the strongest bonds with, whom they will do things for and whom they won’t, and when you walk by them, whom the dolphin is following because they love that person. Each animal is very unique and has their own personality. There is so much we have yet to learn from all animals… I watched as sharks were being trained to follow targets, and people were allowed to touch a shark who could stay still and had been trained to sit on the lap on a person in the water… If this is possible, who knows what else we can achieve with a little more creative thinking! I remain working for Sea World as an underwater entertainer to this day and plan on staying with them for years to come!

I read that you perform in an underwater lagoon tank. Can you tell me about that?
One of my jobs has been as an underwater performer. As a professional pearl diver, I have no breathing apparatus or tubes, no weight belt, and am completely relying on the power and strength of my lungs to hold my breath from two to five minutes at a time. This is an ancient art that pearl divers have been practicing for generations. The unique skill is mastered over time, and most people have been trained to do this from a lifetime of swimming and long history of being very athletic. The lagoon is viewable by all guest who visit the park, and is about fourteen feet deep, with three giant viewing windows. Guest are encouraged to come watch as we free dive for oysters with real pearls inside. They can stay as long as they like and go right up to the viewing windows for pictures, to interact, and watch tricks that I love to do such as bubble rings, flips, and other skills that I find to entertain the kids at the glass. This is actually my favorite job of all at Sea World. It allows me to talk and interact with guests, perform at the glass, and be underwater swimming for eight to twelve hours thoughout the day!

How do people on the outside typically respond to you?
People who see me on the other side of the glass have all types of reactions. Usually they want photos and then try to get me to go up for air, which I don’t need much of so I get a kick out of reading their lips and responding back talking to them underwater in various actions or having them read my lips as well. There are some people who do not believe we are even real or that we are really in water. You wouldn’t believe some of the responses I get and how people cannot believe that someone is able to sit at the bottom of the lagoon on one breath of air and also do up to twenty bubble rings on a single breath as well. During the shows at Shamu, I enjoyed swimming to the glass and jumping down into the audience and giving the guest high fives as I ran through the aisles to try and let the kids have a chance to interact with me as much as possible… even if it meant running all the way up into the second section and reaching tho the center of that section. There was a time when that was me as a child sitting in that very stadium wishing I could meet a trainer, so I know what that is like to watch and want that connection with both whales and trainers.

Were you a diver before you were a mermaid, or vice versa? How does wearing a mermaid tail affect your diving (if it does)?
I have been swimming and free diving my entire life. I got PADI SCUBA certified in 2005. So I was a professional swimmer before I was a pro mermaid. Having a mermaid tail is a lot difference than free diving or performing without tail. You do have a lot more freedom as a performer without a tail. When I have a mermaid tail on, it is a completely different feeling and I do enjoy the speed and grace and the way you react differently as you glide through the water. It’s the closest I can get to being connected to what it would be like as a dolphin or creature of the sea, so I love it! Legs or not, I just love being underwater.

What do you think of mermaids’ rising popularity, and the growing popularity of “mermaiding” generally?
It’s a great sign that people are into what you are pursuing and as they say, “imitation is the best form of flattery!” I can only imagine how many more will join once the new Pirates of the Caribbean 4 movie featuring mermaids comes out, lol! I just hope they find me and we can all stay in touch! Any fan of mermaids, the ocean, animals, diving, or saving our planet is a friend of mine!

What is the allure of mermaids, anyway?
It’s the mystery of what could be, and the beauty of half woman/half fish, that brings out the sci-fi wonder in all of us! So many videos that are out about mermaids ask the big question, “Are they real or are mermaids fake?” In the end to me it’s not about justifying it one way or another but about having something fun to believe in and applying it to your life in a fun and positive way. The more people are exposed to the idea and concept of being a mermaid, the more I believe it will continue to grow around the world.

Do you have any advice for fans of your work or aspiring mermaids?
Be unique and dare to be different. Do not ride off the mer-tails of others because people will see that you are simply imitating another. Challenge yourself to find something you can call your own!

All my success in in life is from self motivation, drive, and putting in the hard work. If you want something badly enough in life, don’t expect others to do it for you. Get out there and make a difference. Get involved in a great cause, find out what you love, and help our planet and the people we love in it! Work your way up in what you pursue and prove yourself. Only then will life reward you with people putting their trust into what you represent, knowing you’re reliable and giving you your deserved moments to shine!

What type of mermaid projects are you currently working on and what can we expect from you in the months to come?

This summer is going to be very busy! I have a mermaid gig that I will be dedicated to for almost four months on location. Other projects include mermaiding soon in the waters off the coasts of Jamaica, Mexico, & Haiti. You can imagine all the stories and environmental issues I’ll be taking on while traveling the world and performing as a mermaid full time. Also, after a successful story was published in the Spring 14 issue of FAE magazine, now a regular columnist for Mermaids & Mythology Magazine, and several news stories airing MTV Mermaid music video and other news clips on mermaiding.
Each issue I go in depth speaking up on the issues I have seen with my own eyes from swimming the oceans and being around so many aquatic creatures. I am a strong believer that a positive light can be shined on the otherwise dreary topics of environmental issues we face, and that we can find fun new ways to explore how we can all make a difference… one small gesture or action at a time.