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StarNews Online

Date: March 6, 2017
Category: News

Weeki Wachee Mermaids come to life at N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher

Mermaids have traveled from Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in Florida to enchant visitors at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher.

FORT FISHER — It’s a mermaid life for Amanda Luter. Dressed in a pink bedazzled top and fish tail, for the past three years she has swum in aquariums across the country as a real-life mermaid.

“My favorite part is the kids and seeing their reactions, they get so excited,” Luter said. “Sometimes you can hear them from inside the tank saying, ‘Look at the mermaid!’ It’s really nice to bring that fairy tale to life.”

Luter and her mermaid friends have traveled from Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in Florida to enchant visitors at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher. From now until Sunday, and again March 10-12, guests can catch a glimpse of the mythical creatures swimming in the aquarium’s 235,000-gallon Cape Fear Shoals habitat with sharks, rays, fish and a sea turtle, or interact with them during mermaid-themed activities.

Luter added she enjoyed getting to travel and amaze guests who have never seen a mermaid show. In Weeki Wachee, mermaid shows are part of a 70-year tradition.

“Here everything is like a whole new world for them. They get to see us swimming around and get to meet us, and we get to hear what they love about mermaids,” Luter said.

The transformation into mermaid takes about a year. During mermaid training, participants get SCUBA certified and learn how to breathe through an air hose underwater. While the finished product is a glamorous mermaid, getting there is a difficult process.

“You have to be able to control not having a mask on, not having goggles on, trying to breathe, look comfortable, smile and sing words to a song,” Luter said. “It’s a lot to adapt to — everything from buoyancy to swimming in a mermaid tail and making it all come together.”

Luter added the hardest part of mermaid life is adapting to different water temperatures. Comfortable swimming temperatures for humans range from 85 to 89 degrees. The springs of Weeki Wachee average at 74 degrees.

For Luter, the temperature is more intimidating than the tanks of sharks she frequents. The creatures she makes friends with inside the tanks have their own personalities, she said.

“I think sharks are kind of like puppy dogs, they just swim and do their own thing,” she said. “I actually headbutted a shark at one point. It was scary at first, but he did his own thing. If they don’t mind us, we don’t really mind them. We just swim around them.”