Hannah Fraser is a real life mermaid in every sense of the word. Her beauty and passion for embodying this mythical creature have become tools in creating awareness for the protection of endangered marine life. By day and by the cold of night, she dances with the ocean’s most majestic and terrifying creatures — creating breathtaking imagery beyond the borderlines of imagination. With these images she has inspired millions of people worldwide to pay attention to the crimes that occur in our world’s oceans and to dispel the misconceptions we have about the sea life we villainize. Featured in The Cove documentary and a recent presenter at Tedx, Hannah’s courage and bold impact continue to reverberate and positively impact our planet.
We’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Hannah to ask how a love for mermaids as a girl became a lifelong passion and her livelihood as a woman, her face off with a great white shark, and about her soon to be released documentary.
What was the deciding moment that set you on the path towards becoming a mermaid?
I’ve always loved the idea of mermaids. As soon as I could draw stick figures they had mermaid tails. I was always very artistic, creating mermaid art and little sculptures that I would decorate with shells and seaweed. I was born in England but I spent the first 7 years of my life in the hills of Los Angeles. Then, we moved to Melbourne, Australia and we were at least two hours drive from the beach. We’d make it out for a beach day now and then but it was few and far between. So, I really didn't have the ocean as part of my life when I was growing up but I was always drawing pictures of mermaids and the ocean. I remember going to the library as a child and trying to find any information on mermaids, researching if they were real! (There was no internet back then) I could never find anything that satisfied my curiosity. The Hans Christian Andersen little mermaid story was the only thing I could find.
When I saw the film Splash, that made it real to me and made me realize I could make a tail and swim in it. It didn't have to be this alternate fantasy in my head, I could actually embody it, on this planet. I was completely obsessed. I had pictures of Daryl Hannah’s Mermaid character all over my room. It inspired me to create my first mermaid tail when I was nine with the help of my artistic and supportive mother. I swam in it all the time in our pool until it disintegrated from overuse! My friends would come over and laugh at me but they always ended up wanting to swim with me.
How did you turn this passion into a career?
I had continued making mermaid art for 20 years. I began modeling, performing and costume designing. I was hired for an underwater photoshoot and the imagery that was created showed me that I was born to be in the water!! It was the one point where all my passions converged and I became the living example of my artistic dreams.
I have been performing as a mermaid since 2003 and to my knowledge, I was the first person to make a full time career out of being a freelance professional mermaid. Creating a career that fit into my passion rather than trying to fit into an existing career path hasn't been easy, but endlessly rewarding. I moved to Los Angeles in 2010 to fully explore my passion and make the most of my career in a place where there are many creative people with a lot of motivation!
I have worked in many of the world's top aquariums, performed at large scale events, and been featured in photo shoots, campaigns and short films for many large companies and creative ventures. I have swum with great white sharks, whales, dolphins, manta rays, stingrays, turtles, seals, and a wide variety of other sea life. SO far I still have all my limbs!
Tell us about the creation of your mermaid tail.
Each one takes over 4 months of work to make. There’s a lot of intensive sewing, gluing, and constructing. Its a labor of love, but worth it in the end. My tails are functional, durable, self-fixable and very beautiful! They are fully functional underwater and help me to swim fast.
How do you train for your experiences underwater?
Wearing a tail is a great workout and keeps me fit in ways I couldn't achieve otherwise. I practice yoga, breath-work, and dance a lot to keep in shape to be able to perform as a mermaid. There is a certain amount of mental preparation that goes along with it.
The basic physical preparation (yoga, breathing exercises, etc) require that I slow my heartbeat down by mentally relaxing... going into a meditative state where I am not thinking about anything other than where I am, and the feeling of being comfortable and at one with the underwater world. This is especially important if I am swimming with large or dangerous wild animals. I need to be super aware of them, their movements and tune into how they react to me, so I can adjust what I do to be safe, non threatening and careful.
What is the project you are currently most dedicated to?
Emmy award winning cinematographer Shawn Heinrichs and I have been working on creating groundbreaking art imagery showing the connection between human and sea creature in a series of awe inspiring short films and photos featuring Tiger Sharks, Whale Sharks, Pilot Whales, Dolphins, and Manta Rays.
We will be releasing our documentary ‘Tears of a Mermaid’ in 2015, which will show behind the scenes footage of how we created these inspiring images, and how we navigated these ground breaking animal connections. The shoots are full of intense challenge, physical hardships and require a deep knowledge of the ocean and its inhabitants, but ultimately our dedicated team of ocean lovers are elated by the successful interactions and how they have helped drive action and inspire change in how we relate to our planet.
What is the message you hope to deliver with the release of your documentary?
We have been actively campaigning to bring inspiration over devastation and END the shark fin and manta gill ray trade, and cetacean slaughter by showing people that these animals are intelligent, interactive, largely harmless, and invaluable to the balance of the ecosystem that we depend upon for life on this planet. Our films have been shown worldwide, and been instrumental in helping the campaigns to change governmental protection laws for manta rays and sharks.
We aim to engage seaside communities in protecting their local ocean animals and eco system by education, and inspiration. After presentations featuring our work, local communities in the Philippines and Indonesia have changed their practices of killing to tourism, to showcase the natural beauty of these animals.
In addition, I currently work with Shawn Heinrichs for the Blue Sphere Foundation, creating high end underwater imagery to inspire change and drive action. I also endorse Oceania project, Sea Shepherd, Save Japan Dolphins, Mermaids for Sanctuaries, Mission of Mermaids, and Surfers for Cetaceans.
What has been your most frightning encounter thus far?
Swimming with 14 ft great white sharks was beyond overwhelming!! I was so scared before I did it. I had sweaty palms and nightmares for weeks before the experience, but when I did it...
Although I was definitely in a fight or flight, moment of facing death experience, I was very calm and focused on where I was, what I had to do and being super conscious of every move that the sharks made!
I was on a stinky old fishing trawler off Guadalupe Island in Mexico, The experience was phenomenal, amazing, an incredible opportunity to totally face all of my fears. Although Id been swimming as a mermaid for quite a few years Id never seen a shark, and of course thats the first question everyone asks: Arent you afraid of sharks? And I was always replied, Well, yeah, but thats not going to stop me from following my passion! And then when I had this opportunity to go swim with the sharks I thought well this is the moment, if you want to be a real mermaid! I threw myself in the deep end, and as far as I know I was the first mermaid to ever be filmed swimming with great white sharks in the wild, with no cage, wearing a tail, breath holding, with no safety gear!
The scientists who were accompanying us on the trip were very interested in how the sharks reacted to me, suggesting; We believe that the sharks are so intelligent that they can identify the difference between a human and a fish, even if youre dressed like dinner! So that was our premise for the TV program. And it was very interesting. I dont think the sharks reacted any differently to me than they did to the scuba guys, and I believe they could tell that I was not a fish or a seal (which was their usual food source) I came to feel a new kind of respect for these prehistoric predators, and tapped into an intelligence within the sharks that I hadn't previously thought existed.
But that doesnt mean they weren’t curious. And the only way they can check you out is to have a little nibble!!! So regardless of the fact of whether they can identify you as a fish or not, the danger factor is still completely there. And when I first got onto the boat I said, ”Well first off who’s the medic on board? Were in the middle of nowhere, weve travelled hours and hours on little tiny planes and boats to the middle of nowhere
Who’s the medic on board in case anything goes wrong?” And the guy who was running the show said, ”Uhhh I think we have a first aid kit on board somewhere.”. Right, I thought. I’m really in the deep end here with some cowboys.
So I’m out there, I’m holding my breath, in a tail with my legs bound together and with no cage, and I asked, ”What happens if a shark comes at me and I feel like its gonna eat me?” And they were like, “Well, theyre just like wild dogs, you just have to show them who’s boss. Just don’t turn tail and run away, because then all its predatory instincts will be aroused. Just show them who’s boss.” I was like, ”Are you kidding, how am I going to do that, let alone even remember to do that in a moment when a great white shark is coming at me?”
Now, the theory was that there were going to be guys with spear guns around me for safety, but the reality was Im so much faster in my tail than anyone else, especially when they have dive gear on, and to get the best photo, I have to be out in the open ocean away from the dive guys, alone with the sharks! So I take off, I’m swimming right out there in the ocean, they’re all way behind me, and this shark starts coming directly at me. And I had the experience of everything slowing down to that one drawn out moment in time, and my brain was going a million miles an hour and I thought, Okay this is that moment that I was asking about. What am I gonna do? Thats right I have to show it who’s boss. And so I put my arms out wide, and started screaming under the water and swimming directly at it. I was actually yelling, “Come on motherf***er! I’ll take you ON!!” But of course it just sounded more like, blup blup blup. And the shark just veered off course, changed direction and took off! I scared off a 14-foot great white shark, so whenever Im faced with scary situations in life, I remember that and think, I can handle ANYTHING!
Despite my fears and the dangers associated with sharks, I learned some pretty horrific facts about humans! There are only around 5 fatalities by shark bites per year, whereas humans kill over 100 million sharks every year! They are actually more scared of us than we are of them, and we are the ultimate predator. I advocate for ending shark killing, and allowing these magnificent creatures to live in peace in their own environment.
What does Wild mean to you?
The concept of ‘WILD’ to me is about being uninhibited, free to express, connected to nature and in tune with the flow and growth of the universe in a symbiotic way. Not trying to control it... but working harmoniously with it.