So now that I have returned from the Bahamas and have officially swum and dived with sharks (and mermaids!), it seems only fitting for me to feature gorgeous shark-loving scuba-diving German-born Mermaid Kat, who is one of those worldly and international types who can usually be found deep under water in places like Thailand, where she currently lives and teaches diving, or Australia, where she lived before Thailand, or Singapore or Malaysia, where she’ll be giving mermaid workshops later this year, or in aquarium tanks with sharks, to help support anti-shark-finning campaigns and spread shark love in general. That is, if she is not sitting upon rocks in random exotic locales contemplating the strangeness of the human world.
Our scintillating and sumptuous Q and A follows.
So how long have you been a mermaid?
As a child, I always loved mermaids and I always loved being in the water. I’m not the best swimmer at the surface, though, and always preferred swimming underwater. I didn’t have the idea of becoming a real mermaid until my husband Spencer and I were living in Australia and doing a lot of scuba diving. Then in September 2011 we moved to Thailand. Here it is always warm and the water is lovely. I started to work on my own mermaid tail and finished my first one in May this year. After this I would say I realised my dream and really started mermaiding.
What is it like being a mermaid in Thailand?
Being a mermaid in Thailand is wonderful! The water is between 27 and 31°C all year round. The people here are friendly and love mermaids. In Phuket I am already famous. When my husband is out on the boat teaching scuba diving people often ask him, “Your wife is the mermaid, isn´t she?” That is quite funny.
Can you tell me about your recent mermaid camp you offered?
I just finished my first mermaid workshop. Actually it was planned with just two girls from Malaysia but somehow people heard about it and so I ended up with six student mermaids. One from Scotland, one from Switzerland, two from Thailand, one Malaysian and one Chinese mermaid. So the whole story turned into “Mermaid Kat´s International Mermaidworkshop 2012” in Phuket. The girls had three days of training, one of which we spent in the classroom and pool. The mermaids got to learn lots of stuff about what it means to be a mermaid, freediving, the environment, equipment and so on. Richard Wonka is a friend of mine and is also an AIDA freediving instructor and has his own freediving school called We Freedive. He showed the girls how to do the perfect mermaid movement under water and what to do to extend their breath holds. Later we practised those things in the pool. The girls also had to do some self-rescue skills like getting out of their tails at the surface and under water. Then we spent two days on the boat and the girls had to practise their freediving and underwater modelling skills. Frederic Juneau filmed the mermaids underwater. The girls had the option to become a bronze, silver or gold mermaid depending on their skills. At the end we had two bronze mermaids and three silver mermaids. One girl didn´t meet the performance requirements for the bronze certification so she became a land mermaid. After the three training days we left for Pattaya to support a big anti-shark finning campaign together with the conservation organisation The Divetribe. My mersisters and I swam in the shark tank of Underwater World Pattaya to show that sharks are no monsters like Hollywood portrays them. It was a really cool event. All girls were happy and they learned a lot! I was already asked to give a mermaid workshop in Malaysia and Singapore this year so it looks like it will stay exciting.
Can you tell me more about swimming with sharks?
Swimming with sharks is awesome! I see them quite often while scuba diving. To see sharks is always something really special. They look so majestic. I try to promote a better image for sharks because I hope that so more people start to care about them and help to protect them. I’ve never had a single moment where I felt scared being surrounded by sharks. They are not aggressive or anything like that. They just swim by.
Can you talk about your anti-shark-finning campaign work?
I do lots of stuff for the environment and animals. I love animals and nature. I really hate to see what humans are doing to our world and other creatures. That is why I also support anti-shark-finning campaigns. Shark fin soup is a tradition in Asia. In China for example every wedding guest will get shark fin soup. I’ve never tried it but I’ve heard that it is almost tasteless. One bowl of this soup costs about $80 but what many people don´t know is that shark fin meat is poison because it has too much mercury. But anyway many people don´t know or don´t care that 72 million sharks get killed every year. Mostly they cut the shark’s fins off when the shark is still alive and then throw the rest of its body overboard. Some of them may die quite quickly but some of them may still be alive for a few days and die slowly and painfully. If you watch the movie Sharkwater you can see how big this market is and how corrupt some countries are. Some sharks reach sexual maturity at an age of 30 years. If you think about the number 72 million it’s clear that most sharks get slaughtered before they’re able to reproduce. That means if we don´t stop this it won´t take long before our oceans will be dead.
Many people still think that sharks are monsters who want to kill you if they find you. They got this image from Hollywood and because you would see a shark accident in every newspaper and in every TV show. It is the same with airplanes. Many people are afraid of flying but actually it is the safest way of transportation. But why are they afraid? Because if there is a plane crash there will be so much media coverage that everyone will hear about it. But we rarely hear that there are many more deaths each year on the streets in cars. It is the same with sharks. If there is an accident you will hear about it. People don’t realise that there are far more fatal dog attacks each year. And if you think about five or six fatal shark accidents each year in the world as opposed to the 72 million sharks that are slaughtered every year for shark fin soup, the question would be “who is the real monster”? The shark population has declined up to 90% in the last 15 years. Sharks are the top of the food chain if you kill them everything will get out of balance and at the end we will die, too.
Can you tell me about your other activist work? Who is Paul Watson, for example?
I did this campaign to free Paul Watson. Paul Watson is the founder of the organisation Sea Shepherd. He and his crew are fighting against illegal whaling, shark finning and all kinds of other issues affecting creatures living in the ocean. Some countries call them eco terrorists because they go hard against the people who do illegal whaling for example. They accept huge risks to protect our oceans and I respect them for that. Anyway Paul Watson got arrested in Germany because of an old warrant from Costa Rica. If you watch the movie Sharkwater you will find out what happened back then. The problem is if he had been extradited to Costa Rica his life would have been in danger. Paul Watson has done so many things for the ocean, the animals and our planet. That is why I did this campaign. But anyway he fled Germany a few weeks ago. No one knows where he is now and I think that is good!
Are there any other memorable mermaid experiences you can tell us about?
A few weeks ago, I went down to 18 meters on a single breath and swam through a ship wreck which I normally just visit when I go scuba diving. It was an awesome moment! I love to scuba dive but if you do something like this just on a breath hold it feels completely different.
You were at Mercon, weren’t you? How was that event for you? Had you ever been surrounded by other mermaids like that before?
I was at the Mercon last year in Las Vegas. It was my very first time meeting mermaids like this. I was right at my beginning of becoming a mermaid and really hoped to get a good mermaid tail at this event. To be honest for me this event was really disappointing. There were no latex or silicon tails to buy and most of the mermaids I met were girls I wouldn´t really call mermaids. Of course there are different definitions of being a mermaid but for me being a mermaid means being a freediver and an ambassador of the ocean. Getting into a mermaid tail, putting on goggles, pinching your nose and putting your head under water for 20 seconds in a swimming pool is not my way of being a mermaid. But it was really nice to meet Hannah Fraser in person. She was the first mermaid I heard of and therefore was my inspiration during my first attempts of being a mermaid.
You are an accomplished diver aren´t you? How has your diving affected your mermaid work, and vice versa?
That is right. I am actually a scuba diving instructor and also love freediving. That means that I am quite often under water. I love the underwater world and have some really good friends down there at some dive sites I go to regularly. On the other side I often see things I don´t like, like pollution, fishing and corral bleaching. I always try to give my students as much information as possible about the environment and hope that all of them try to help our world.
Would you recommend that aspiring mermaids learn to dive/get scuba certified?
In my last workshop I had a good mix of girls. Some of them were scuba divers and some of them have never really been under water. Of course you could see a difference. You can see who feels home under water and who doesn´t. If you don´t really like being under water people will always see this in your photos and videos. From this point of view I think it is not a bad idea of becoming a scuba diver just because it makes you more comfortable under water. But I think as a mermaid you should practise your freediving skills. Normally you should be able to do your shootings and stuff just with your freediving skills. If you have a photoshoot on a shipwreck at 20 m depth for example you may need the help of scuba. That means you take a few safety divers down and they will let you breathe from their alternate airsource. But to do this you must really be an experienced diver!!! There is no margin for error. So please don´t do this unless you have the right training and the right team. By the way, to get this training you can come to me as I am a scuba diving instructor!
What does being a mermaid mean to you?
To me being a mermaid means being happy in the water. It means being a freediver, an underwater model and ambassador of the ocean. I love the feeling of being under water and am still practicing my freediving skills. I have a little advantage with the modelling part as I was “Miss Germany International 2006” and got lots of modelling experience. But to be honest I guess out of ten models there will usually be only one who has the skills to become a good underwater model. But on the other side of it, you look slimmer underwater and you also don´t see any wrinkles. So many girls who wouldn´t fit the requirements for a fashion model still have a chance to become an underwater model. Being an ambassador of the ocean means a lot to me. The standards for my mermaid workshops even say that I won’t certify any student if I see him or her coming out of the supermarket with a plastic bag, throwing a cigarette butt on the street or beach, touching anything underwater, feeding any wildlife or doing any other thing that isn´t role model behaviour for an ocean ambassador.
What do you think the strong appeal of mermaids is, anyway?
I think mermaids have a strong appeal because on the one side they are beautiful creatures. On the other side they are half humans but they are able to do what the most humans can´t do. They are able to hold their breath for a really long time, see clearly under water and live together with all the mythical creatures in the ocean.
Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids out there?
My advice for everyone who wants to be a mermaid or merman is to take some time off, come to Thailand and come to my mermaid school! I will give a few big mermaid workshops again this year—I’ll post dates on my Facebook page—but I also give courses for just one or two people. So if anyone is interested the best thing is to contact me via my Facebook page. They can learn what it really means to be a mermaid. They’ll get classroom sessions, training in the pool, exams, photos and videos of themselves underwater, freedive training—and have lots of experience and fun!