Over the last few weeks, Melissa has been busy traveling across the USA since her return from Australia. Even visiting schools to talk about ocean conservation.
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Mermaid Melissa is so dedicated to her lifestyle that “Mermaid Melissa” is her actual, legal name. Her previous work experience includes such jobs as trainer for underwater entertainers, marine mammal trainer and lifeguard, so her work today comes as little surprise.
“I have been called a mermaid for most of my life, because of my strong swimming skills and love for the ocean,” she said. She wouldn’t disclose her rates, but she said that her work involves a lot of moving parts and a lot of travel, which she admitted doesn’t come cheap.
“Mermaid tank rentals require delivery, set up and my team to assist with the project,” she said. “Most of what I do involves traveling.”
She said that the downside to the job, apart from the physical demands, is the strong possibility of getting sick from spending whole days in cold water. However, she preferred to focus on the positive aspects.
“I like the reaction of the crowds during live shows, and interacting with people after a performance,” she said. “I welcome the curiosity.”
PRESS – Mentions in The Wall Street Journal, The Sunday Times, Bloomberg Business Week Magazine, Buzzfeed, The Guardian, Take 5 Magazine, Huffington Post, and other publications listed below:
Daily Mail: “It’s a mer-icle! Incredible footage shows ‘real life mermaid’ swimming with Giant Manta Rays in the Great Barrier Reef”
The Sunday Times Magazine: “A Life in the Day of Mermaid Melissa”
UNILAD: “‘Real Life’ Mermaid Swims With Sea Life, Can Hold Breath For 5 Minutes”
MOVIEPILOT: “Mermaid Melissa Is a Real Life Ariel, And Seeing Her Under the Sea Tricks Will Blow Your Mind”
Your Pets My Dogs Radio Interview with Mermaid Melissa:
Dazed Magazine: “Meet a real-life mermaid”
“Why one Florida activist turned herself into a mermaid to advocate for the oceans”
Mail Online & Daily Mail:
“A real life Little Mermaid! Blonde free diver inspired by Disney classic changes her name to ‘mermaid’ as he says she wears her ‘tail’ everyday and can hold her breath underwater for five minutes”
Huffington Post: “Professional Mermaid Gets Along Swimmingly With Ocean Sea Life (Mostly)”
Cosmopolitan: “15 Photos of a Real-Life Mermaid You Have to See to Believe”
Cosmopolitan Australia: “This real-life mermaid will give you new career goals”
Hungarian Cosmopolitan: “Elképesztő: 10 éve sellőként él egy lány”
“Ha azt hitted, hogy Élő Barbie után már nem jöhet sokkolóbb, akkor nagyot tévedtél! Egy fiatal csajszi, Melissa Dawn ugyanis már évek óta hableánynak képzeli magát.”
“15 Photos of a Real-Life Mermaid You Have to See to Believe”
“Bonus: This mermaid’s for hire!”
The Mirror: “Stunning images show ‘mermaid’ at play as she swims with a group of deadly stingrays”
The CHIVE: Mermaid Melissa loves the sea (10 Photos)
Inquisitr: “Meet Mermaid Melissa Who Swims With The Ocean’s Sea Life Including Sharks”
Epoch Times “Epoch Inspired” Feature:
“Professional Mermaid Teaches People, How to Protect Ocean Animals”
“Meet the ‘Real-Life Mermaid’ Who Shows No Fear While Swimming With Deadly Stingrays”
“Meet the world’s most ‘real-life’ mermaid”
Real Life Mermaid Melissa is world-renowned for traveling the globe swimming the seas as a professional mermaid underwater performer. Promoting Ocean Awareness through her mermaid videos that share a message: “Let’s Help save the oceans before all creatures become mythical.”
Life as a Professional Mermaid
“Some girls collect shoes or fancy jewelry; I collect mermaid tails.”
— Mermaid Melissa, professional mermaid
As squealing pre-teen girls gather before a large tank at a Florida aquatic park, Mermaid Melissa wriggles into a 60-pound silicone tail and a clamshell bra.
Backstage, Mermaid Melissa nods to her production team, then, with the free-flowing finesse of a sea creature, careens into the water. Slowly and gracefully, she glides 14 feet below the surface; here, she’ll hold her breath for 5 minutes while doing tricks for the crowd on the other side of the glass.
With platinum blonde hair and blue eyes, Melissa looks more like a Barbie doll than Ariel. But for more than a decade, she has made a living in one of America’s strangest trades: the “professional mermaid” business.
The life of a mermaid, especially one who makes a living at her craft, is not for the weak-willed. It is a job that requires synchronous expertise in freediving, swimming, marine biology, and CPR — not to mention a superior level of physical fitness and core strength. With nearly a decade of experience as a professional freediver and underwater performer, Melissa fits the bill. But she is also a consummate entrepreneur who has built a thriving business around her mermaid alter-ego.
Under the Sea
As a child in the coastal town of St. Augustine, Florida, Melissa Dawn spent her early days reading books on marine biology, and exploring the treasures brought in by the tide. She developed a fascination with sea life (“Teachers identified my assignments by the dolphin drawings on them,” she says), and eventually sought to connect with them in real life:
“I would often join my older sister and go surfing…I’d place a tape recorder with recordings of dolphin echolocation in a Ziplock bag, and I’d try and play it to the wild pods of dolphins that visited the inlet I swam in. At 12 years old, I was convinced this would work, and was fascinated at the idea of better understanding, or one day cracking, the ‘dolphin communication code.’”
In her early teens, Melissa moved with her family to Orlando, and, for the first time, the shy, quiet animal lover “came out of [her] shell.” With dreams of someday working with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, she secured a weekend job as a show attendant in the sea creature stadium; by 16, she’d worked her way up to part-time cage cleaner, and by 18, she was tasked with directly helping the performers.
Eventually, she graduated college with a marine biology degree, became a certified freediver, and was hired by “the largest marine life park in Orlando” to be an underwater performer. For 8 to 12 hours a day, she swam in large aquatic tanks, entertaining thousands of tourists. It was a job that required a unique blend of advanced swimming skill, technical diving know-how, endurance, and extreme breath-holding.
“I worked my way up to where I was holding my breath for four minutes and 32 seconds underwater, and then, five minutes,” she says. “It required constant training, and I soon got to the point where swimming was as natural to me as breathing.”
Renowned for her breath-holding and underwater tricks, the venue began announcing her to the crowds as “Mermaid Melissa.” It wasn’t before long that audience members began to ask her where her tail was.
A Business Tail
Melissa has always favored Jacques Cousteau over Ariel: “I didn’t grow up obsessed with mermaids,” she admits. “I watched The Little Mermaid as a kid, but never thought I’d actually turn into one myself.”
Yet after dozens of inquires about her lack of a tail, Melissa realized it was time to suit up; when she did, she figured she’d also spread her new brand name outside of the confines of the Universal theme park.
In 2006, just after YouTube launched, she began posting videos of herself free diving; eventually, she moved onto swimming in full mermaid regalia — clamshell-embossed bra and 60-pound, realistic tail included. “There was nothing like this on the Internet at the time,” she says, “and I received a lot of positive feedback from viewers asking to see more content.” Very quickly, she became an Internet sensation, sparking long-winded debates among impressionable commenters over whether or not she was a “real-life mermaid.”
After a few of her videos went viral, Melissa posted a promotion offering her services as “mermaid for hire” at children’s birthday pool parties. The ad generated so much interest that she decided to launch her own professional mermaid service company.
* * *
Since 2007, Melissa has run her own mermaid mini-empire.
What started as her offering to perform at children’s’ parties has since expanded into a fully-staffed “mermaiding troupe” that puts on shows all over the world, and an arsenal of five custom-made mermaid performance tanks that are rented out frequently for private parties.
“I identify myself as a businesswoman with a mission statement of promoting ocean education through underwater entertainment,” she says. “For me, my mermaid persona is an escape from the norm — it makes me feel like Clark Kent transforming into Superman.”
Her performance company, “Mermaid Aquatic Entertainment,” is composed of a highly-trained team of merfolk, all of whom she sourced from theme parks in Orlando and Los Angeles. She doesn’t just hire any old mermaid: her performers are skilled acrobats, swimmers, and, most importantly, freedivers:
“Freediving is a dangerous skill. It takes a lot of training and it is something you can lose if you do not continuously maintain it. I train my performers how to be the best at mermaiding, but I do not hire those without the skills to be safe and athletic underwater. The people I hire at my company have a strong background in freediving, and most have had experience entertaining in underwater tanks on a single breath.”
And who exactly hires a troupe of mermaids?
In the past few years alone, Melissa and her mer-crew have been hired by aquariums, hotels, resorts, movie directors, event planners, corporate companies, photographers, charities, reality shows, fairs, concerts, fashion designers, and corporate events — just to name a few. She’s worked every type of event, from lavish VIP parties to Hollywood movie shoots, and her work has taken her across the world: Japan, Dubai, Australia, Germany, the Bahamas, Italy, Belgium, France, London, Portugal, Jamaica…the list is exhaustive.
Often, clients request that she wear a tail of a specific color, and she’ll have to get it custom-made. But like any good mermaid, Melissa has learned there is much more to the profession than the quality of one’s tail: “It is one of many tools,” she says, “and, as with any business, no one thing guarantees success.”
Melissa has managed to build out an impressive online fan base: her 134,000 YouTube followers has earned her a YouTube silver play button award (her channel has over 160,000,000 views), and her 600,000+ Facebook fans provide her with an endless stream of business.
“My rates vary a lot based on what type of event the client requests,” she tells us, “but I will say that I do not get paid in sand dollars.”
A Mermaid With a Message
When theme park-goers first gave Melissa the nickname “Mermaid Melissa” ten years ago, she was a bit reticent to accept the title; since then, she’s not only launched a thriving business, but has legally changed her name to “Mermaid.”
“I guess I just decided to take it to a whole different level than they ever imagined,” she admits.
But the name change came with a message: after many years of working at the Orlando marine life park, she became disillusioned by “how captivity really plays a role in our society”:
“I have been on both sides of the issue — as a fan of marine parks, and as a trainer of killer whales and dolphins. What once seemed like a good source of education for children to learn more about marine mammals is now out of date. [Keeping these animals in tanks] is not the best way to teach future generations about respecting and protecting animals.”
Instead, Melissa advocates using mermaid shows as an alternative form of marine entertainment. “As a mermaid performer, I have the choice to perform, and I can leave the tank at the end of the day,” she says. “The mermaid persona has enabled me to be a voice for the animals who can’t speak out.”
Her company’s slogan — “Let’s help save the oceans before all creatures become mythical” — voices her vision: a world focused on protecting and saving the sea and its dignified creatures. In a roundabout way, it’s a message that harkens back to her dream as a child.
“When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up fast so I could have an adult job, and achieve my dream [of working with marine animals],” she says. “It’s pretty ironic how I’ve come full-circle: now that I’m finally an adult, I’m living out every little girl’s childhood fantasy.”