A mermaid is a legendary aquatic creature with the upper body of a woman and the tail of a fish. Mermaids appear in the folklore of many cultures worldwide, including the Near East, Europe, and Asia. The first stories appeared in ancient Assyria, in which the goddess Atargatis transforms herself into a mermaid out of shame for accidentally killing her human lover. Mermaids are sometimes depicted as perilous creatures associated with floods, storms, shipwrecks, and drowning. In other folk traditions (or sometimes within the same tradition) they can be benevolent, bestowing boons or falling in love with humans.
Mermaids are associated with the Sirens of Greek mythology and with the Sirenia, a biological order which comprises dugongs and manatees. Historical sightings by sailors may have been the result of misunderstood encounters with these aquatic mammals. Christopher Columbus reported seeing mermaids while exploring the Caribbean, and sightings have been reported in the 20th and 21st centuries in Canada, Israel, and Zimbabwe. The US National Ocean Service stated in 2012 that no evidence of mermaids has ever been found.
Mermaids have been a popular subject of art and literature in recent centuries. Danish author Hans Christian Andersen wrote his popular fairy tale "The Little Mermaid" in 1836. They have subsequently been depicted in opera, paintings, books, films, and comics.