Tuna company taps CMU professor to judge mermaid contest

Ari Berk, professor of folklore and mythology.
Ari Berk, professor of folklore and mythology.(Central Michigan University)
Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 1:30 PM EST
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MT. PLEASANT, Mich. (WNEM) - Can you convince a mermaid expert the mythical creatures are real? If you can prove it by the end of the month, you could win $1 million from Chicken of the Sea.

Ari Berk, a Central Michigan University professor of folklore and mythology, is judging the contest. He was selected to judge it last year.

“It was weird enough that if there was a mermaid expert, it might be me,” Berk said.

He has written books about giants, hobgoblins and mermaids.

Berk will judge the contest entries in March. The grand prize winner will receive $1 million. If no one wins, Chicken of the Sea will donate 1 million ounces of seafood to food pantries.

Berk said he was drawn to the company by their environment policies, adding that in folklore, mermaids – called merfolk when referring to all genders – are used as stand-ins for lessons on how people treat natural resources. An example is if people pollute a river they live on – if they mistreat a mermaid – they are punished by a body of water that produces less food. If they exercise wise stewardship over it, they are rewarded with sustainable harvests.

In addition, people who mistreat merfolk often bring disaster upon themselves, Berk said. The professor added merfolk were believed to send huge waves to swamp harbors or block them with sandbars as revenge.

Berk also said people looking for mermaids as popularly imagined might want to think a bit more broadly as folklore usually reports they look something like the critters living in large bodies of water.

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