Back in 1493, as Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sailed his ships near the Dominican Republic, he saw what he thought were three mermaids. They were actually manatees, which explains why Columbus wrote that they were "not half as beautiful as they are painted."
Mermaids, the legendary creatures who are half fish/half female, have made their appearance in seafaring cultures dating back to the ancient Greeks. They are said to have a woman's head and torso. But instead of legs, they sport a fish tail.
Here is a handy guide so that, when you see either a manatee or a mermaid, you will be able to tell the difference.
Mermaids are generally seen holding a mirror and comb.
Manatees are never seen holding a mirror and comb, though they might be wearing a barnacle or two.
The life span of a mermaid is 300 years, after which she turns to sea foam.
The life span of a manatee is 50-60 years.
In some legends and fairy tales, mermaids can take on a human shape and marry mortal men.
Manatees are not big on marriage, and prefer to mate with other manatees.
The biggest danger to a mermaid is a handsome prince.
The biggest danger to a manatee is a boat.
A mermaid who marries a prince forever loses her ability to speak and sing.
Manatees who meet up with boats also lose their ability to speak and sing.
A mermaid is roughly the size and weight of a human.
An adult manatee is typically 10-12 feet long and weighs 800 to 1,200 pounds.
Mermaids are vegetarians. They mostly eat seaweed and algae.
Manatees are vegetarians, as well. Be careful, because at a dinner party you might have trouble determining which is the manatee and which is the mermaid.