Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mermaids in Dumaguete

This morning, while scanning the front page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, this is what I found:

DUMAGUETE CITY, Philippines—Scientists at the Silliman University Marine Laboratory here have reported a deluge of visitors since Wednesday as a result of rumors that they are holding mermaids (locally called serena), in the premises.

The rumors, sent out through text messages and by word of mouth, spread like wildfire when the purported detention of the mermaids was blamed for the Feb. 7 floods in Negros Oriental, which caused at least four deaths and millions of pesos in damage.

“Over 100 people have been coming here since Wednesday night looking for the serena, and our security guard reported that his jaws were aching from having to deny the story again and again,” Dr. Janet Estacion, the assistant director of the Marine Lab, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Friday.

I thought I'd repost it here in full because, well, it's just so strange and yet so...Dumaguete. Full story here, written by my editor and biking buddy Alex Pal.

The story comes in varied versions, depending on who one asks. The version told by the folks making a beeline for the Marine Lab went like this:

A Caucasian bought three mermaids in Amlan town some 20 kilometers north of Dumaguete. He donated two of the creatures to the Marine Lab, angering the mother mermaid who unleashed nature’s fury on the people of Negros Oriental.


A low-pressure area off northeastern Mindanao brought occasional rains to the province on Thursday and Friday, triggering fresh fear among believers of the mermaid tale.

On Thursday, a group of about 30 Amlan residents trooped to the Marine Lab and pleaded with the security guard to release the mermaids so that the sun would come out again, according to Andrea Alviola, a member of the Silliman University staff.

The rumor has caught the interest of Dr. Hilconida Calumpong, the director of the Marine Lab, who is into the study of dugongs (sea cows).

“Dugongs are also called serena, so I was hoping that someone had actually found a dugong. But nothing came out of it,” Calumpong said.

‘Wala diri’

Per Estacion’s account, the visitors are usually ashamed to ask about the mermaids. They pretend to take a tour and then peek curiously inside tanks and other displays, telling each other, “Wala diri (It’s not here).”

The visitors come from as far as Bais City, some 45 km north of Dumaguete.

A physician was also said to have come looking for the mermaids at the Marine Lab.

Said Estacion: “There’s nothing you can do if people still believe in mermaids, even though many fishermen say they don’t exist.”

The rumors spiced up what would otherwise have been ordinary days at the Lab. But Estacion frowned on the idea of playing these up.

“We’re scientists. We don’t want to perpetuate that myth,” she said.


  1. I couldn't help but notice it was a Caucasian that bought the mermaids....

  2. @ Robert - I'm also wondering about that caucasian angle. 'Evil round eyed, white monster' syndrome.

  3. Dumaguete is not as well-integrated as we would like to think, unfortunately.


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