Mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs
What do you get when you combine underwater fantasy with SCUBA technology? Why, you get mermaids, gliding and twirling to the soundtrack of children’s fairy tales or popular music. Mermaid shows have been playing at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, about an hour north of Tampa, since 1947. You may think the mermaids are swimming in a tank, but in fact it’s the audience that’s in a man-made structure. The mermaids are swimming in a natural spring; the 500-seat theater is embedded in the side of the spring 16 feet below the surface. In 1946, Newton Perry, a former US Navy man who trained SEALs to swim underwater in World War II, zeroed in on Weeki Wachee as a good site for a new business. He invented a method of breathing underwater from a hose supplying oxygen from an air compressor, rather than from a tank strapped onto the back. In the shows the mermaids (and mermen — called princes) discreetly take mouthfuls of air from the slender breathing tubes while they perform. Even with the air tubes, though, it’s clear that part of being a mermaid is being able to hold your breath for quite a while. For one admission fee, park visitors can also swim at the on-site water park, see an animal or reptile show, and take a boat ride down the Weeki Wachee River, where they might spot great blue herons, manatees, or alligators.