Mermaid’s purse, what is that?

Unless you grew up near the sea this particular reference to a mermaid’s purse might leave you scratching your head. Malial was certainly confused.

In reality, a mermaid’s purse does not really come from a mermaid it is something called Chondrichthyes which is a kind of egg sack. The mermaid’s purse is a casing that surrounds the fertilised eggs of some sharks, skates, and chimaeras.The mermaid’s purse is made of collagen protein strands.

Due to being lightweight, the sea often washes mermaid’s purses onto the shore. They are most readily found at the strandline, the farthest point of the high tide. The egg cases that wash up on beaches are usually empty and the young fish have already hatched out. For this reason, they are sometimes mistaken for loose seaweed (which the mermaid’s purse most certainly is not).

Mermaid’s purses and me

As a child, I remember using these bits of sea tossed detritus as decorations for sandcastles. I also remember having an argument with another child about what they really were. She insisted that they really did come from mermaids while I, being a boy, was having none of it. I think the argument lasted a couple of minutes and then we ran off together to look for shells, as kids do.

In areas with a strong fishing tradition mermaid’s purses can show up in large numbers near where the boats pull in. The egg cases are often found tangled in fishing gear such as nets and pots. Ramsgate, where I grew up, is a town with a large port and strong maritime background. People have fished the seas going back as long as anyone can remember. I could hardly have a chapter about the sea and not include some of the things I have observed growing up.

Mermaid’s purse in folklore

In chapter three of Legend, we see that the mermaid’s purse can be used for sea magic. The folklore around mermaid’s purses says nothing about magic because I made that up for the story. According to folklore, they are mislaid handbags, the lost personal belongings of mermaids.

Surprisingly, that is about all folklore seems to say on the subject. I did find a blog post on mermaids while looking for more background on the subject.

As I was writing this post, I learned something interesting. I swear, I totally just made up the whole thing about using a mermaid’s purse for magic but <a href=”http://amzn.to/2pWlNOM” title=”Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore by Melusine Draco”>Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore by Melusine Draco</a> apparently says that the mermaid’s purse can be used for spell working on the beach. I have no idea how that should work because my only magic is the magic of words but, there we go.

Maybe, some extreme fundamentalists will get angry about Legend and give me a tonne of free publicity. I can only hope.

Mermaid’s purses and conservation

The egg case that we call “mermaid’s purse” is actually a great indicator of the health of the populations of British sharks. The Great Eggcase Hunt is a project to try and see how they are doing. That was back in 2013. You’d have to ask the Shark Trust is they still want more information.

The Shark Trust has a page about the hunt which says:

The Great Eggcase Hunt aims to get as many people as possible hunting for eggcases that have either been washed ashore, or are found by divers and snorkelers underwater. In recent decades, several species of shark, skate and ray around the British coast have dramatically declined in numbers. The empty eggcases (or mermaid’s purses) are an easily accessible source of information on the whereabouts of potential nursery grounds and will provide the Trust with a better understanding of species abundance and distribution.

So now you have an excuse to go and interact with an aspect of my story. Take a trip to the beach and see if you can find a mermaid’s purse. If you run a blog, perhaps you can blog about your finds. If you do post something, please link to this post or at least let me know so I can read about your adventures.

Over to you

So, there we go – mermaid’s purses.

Hopefully, you now know exactly what a mermaid’s purse is and that you find them as interesting as I do. Now you can feel like a native as you read the chapter with them in.

I encourage you, if you write stories, to include mermaid’s purses in your narrative. If you do, please let me know so I can read it.

If you know any more about the folklore of mermaid’s purses or have memories of finding them on beaches (especially as a child) please tell me about it in the comments.

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