Skip to main content

Jenny Hanivers, Mermaids, Devil Fish, and Sea Monks


Three centuries before P.T. Barnum attracted flocks of crowds with his mummified Fiji Mermaid (which turned out to be a papier-mâché creation featuring a monkey's head and a fish's body), sailors around the world had already began manufacturing "mermaids".  Known as Jenny Hanivers, these creations were often sold to tourists and provided sailors with an additional source of income.  These mummified creatures were produced by drying, carving, and then varnishing the carcasses of fish belonging to the order rajiformes- a group of flattened cartilaginous fish related to the shark which includes stingrays and skates.  These preserved carcasses can be made to resemble mermaids, dragons, angels, demons, and other mythical creatures.


Jenny Hanivers became popular in the mid-16th century, when sailors around the Antwerp docks began selling the novelties to tourists.  This practice was so common  in the Belgian city that it may have influenced the name; it is widely believed that "Jenny Haniver" is a corruption of the French phrase jeune d'Anvers (or "young person of Antwerp").  British seamen began calling the mermaid creatures Jenny Hanivers, and the name stuck.
It's easy to see why sailors preferred this fish for Jenny Hanivers


Although Jenny Hanivers can look quite realistic, it wasn't long until these creations were debunked.  The first published explanation of Jenny Hanivers was written by Swiss naturalist Konrad Gesner in 1558.  Gesner cautioned that these mermaids and demons were nothing more than dead, disfigured rays.  Nonetheless, Jenny Hanivers remained popular up until the 19th century, and some scholars were so convinced of the creature's authenticity that they believed it was a unique species of fish, which they called satanicus aquus, or "devil fish".  Even today, some species of manta rays and eagle rays are known coloquially as "devilfish" (not to be confused with Inimicus didactylus, a venomous stonefish also known as the devilfish).
Salvador Dali with a Jenny Haniver
19th century depiction of a sea monk


As early as 1546, seafarers told tales of a mythical monster known as the sea monk, so called because of its alleged resemblance to a monk.  Although some people believe the sea monk to be nothing more than a giant squid, one cannot overlook the resemblance between the sea monk and a Jenny Hanniver.  

In some parts of the world, Jenny Hanivers are still sold to tourists as souvenirs, but they are becoming an increasingly rare form of "folk art" due to conservation efforts.  Rays and skates have very slow growth rates and, because they sexually mature later in life than most fish species, they also have low reproductive rates.  The barndoor skate (Dipturus laevis), long popular with Jenny Haniver creators because of its large size, is now listed as endangered by the World Conservation Union.  Other species such as the bottlenose skate, the spotback skate, and Maltese ray, are on Greenpeace International's seafood red list.



Popular posts from this blog

The Incest Capital of the World?

At the far eastern edge of Kentucky, nestled in Appalachia, resides Letcher County. In spite of its isolation and poverty (approximately 30% of the county's population lives below the poverty line), Letcher County has managed to grow at an impressive rate, from a population of just 9,172 in 1900 to a present-day population of nearly 25,000. However, even if Letcher County tripled or quadrupled its present population, there's still a pretty good chance that virtually all of the county's inhabitants would be related to each other-- thanks to one particularly fertile family whose astounding rate of reproduction can put even the friskiest rabbit to shame.

Around the year 1900, Letcher County was the home of a man by the name of Jason L. Webb, who made national headlines for having the one of the largest families in the world. According to newspaper reports of the era, Jason had 19 children, 175 grandchildren, and 100 great-grandchildren. Perhaps even more impressive was his b…

Black Eyed Children Finally Explained!

Last month, we received an email from a reader in Michigan, in response to our article debunking the "black eyed children" phenomenon, which links these so-called "paranormal" entities to recreational drug use.  The reader, whom we will call Onizuka in order to protect his identity, claims that not only is he familiar with BEKs- but that he was one.  "Onizuka" agreed to speak with JOTB via Yahoo instant messenger.  Ironically, this conversation took place on 4/20, a date which is embraced by those who are part of the drug culture.


JOTB:Thanks for taking the time to speak with us.  In one of your previous emails, you stated that you were a "black eyed kid".  What did you mean by that?

Onizuka:  Last November I was driving late at night at turned on the radio and came across an episode of Coast to Coast AM and the topic of the show was black eyed children.  It convinced me to do some research on the topic, and that's how I found your article.  A…

Remembering the ill-fated voyage of the Aerowagon

From 1917 to 1922, the Bolshevik-led Red Army battled the anti-Communist White Army during the Russian Civil War.  By the end of 1919 the Bolsheviks had taken the cities of Omsk and Kiev, and had successfully repelled the White Russian siege of Petrograd.  However, the Bolshevik's momentum would be short-lived as the White Army, after retreating across the Baikal, regrouped and joined forces with Gigory Semyonov's Transbaikal Cossacks.  As the Red Army's losses began to mount, especially in Poland, the Bolsheviks attempted to gain a competitive advantage by embracing new technologies, sometimes with disastrous results.  Such is the sad tale of young inventor Valerian Abakovsky and his Aerowagon.

Abakovsky was a Latvian-born inventor who earned his living as a chauffeur for Cheka, the state security organization created by Lenin.  His position granted him access to many high-ranking Soviets and, although details are scarce, Abakovsky most likely used his influence within t…