Danc­ing, Daz­zling in the Deep

Seventy years on, Weeki Wachee mer­maids still mes­mer­ize

Gulf & Main - - Water World - BY ANN MARIE O’PHEL AN Ann Marie O’Phe­lan is a South­west Flor­ida res­i­dent and a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to TOTI Me­dia.

Gor­geous and glid­ing, stream­lined and stun­ning, beau­ti­ful and balanced. Those are just a few of the ways to de­scribe the lovely mer­maids who daz­zle au­di­ences ev­ery day of the year at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in Spring Hill, about 50 miles north of Tampa. While swim­ming un­der­wa­ter, the mer­maids per­form bal­let moves syn­chro­nized to mu­sic, all to an au­di­ence in a 400-seat the­ater. The mer­maids swim 16 to 20 feet be­low the sur­face in the basin of the springs, which is ac­tu­ally one of the deep­est nat­u­rally formed springs in the United States.

While Weeki Wachee Springs State Park of­fers a range of things to do, such as en­joy­ing Buc­ca­neer Bay Water­park, tak­ing river­boat rides and watch­ing wildlife shows, it’s the mer­maids that re­ally of­fer some­thing out of the or­di­nary. “This is the only mer­maid show of its kind in the world, as our venue is unique,” ex­plains John Athana­son, mar­ket­ing and pub­lic re­la­tions man­ager of the park.

The Weeki Wachee mer­maids have been per­form­ing since 1947, when road­side at­trac­tions were meant to “Wow!”—much like the Ga­torWorld Parks of Flor­ida in Wild­wood and the Coral Cas­tle in Home­stead. By the 1950s, Weeki Wachee was ac­tu­ally one of the na­tion’s most pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tions. Af­ter all these years, it’s still a pop­u­lar place to visit, and the park re­cently cel­e­brated its 70th an­niver­sary.

What the mer­maids do is no small feat, con­sid­er­ing they per­form while wear­ing fish tails, and swim in a strong cur­rent in 74-de­gree wa­ter.

The mer­maids are un­der­wa­ter for their en­tire 30-minute shows, as they breathe through hand-held air hoses. The process was cre­ated in 1946, by the founder of Weeki Wachee Spring’s un­der­wa­ter the­ater, New­ton Perry. He was a for­mer U.S. Navy man who trained naval frog­men to swim un­der­wa­ter in World War II.

What the mer­maids do is no small feat, con­sid­er­ing they per­form while wear­ing fish tails, and swim in a strong cur­rent in 74-de­gree wa­ter. Their shows are The Lit­tle Mer­maid, held Mon­day through Fri­day, and Fish Tails, on Sat­ur­day and Sun­day.

Many come to see the mer­maids again and again. “Ev­ery per­for­mance is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent,” Athana­son says. There are slight vari­ances in the per­for­mances, and ap­pear­ances by wildlife some­times oc­cur. “The guests re­ally love when the nat­u­ral wildlife are present dur­ing a show, es­pe­cially when the tur­tles or man­a­tees in­ter­act with the mer­maids,” he adds.

Vin­tage pho­tos of Weeki Wachee mer­maids, who started per­form­ing in the 1940s.

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