One of the joyous things about Mer society and Mermaid Lore, is that there are so many variations of tails. Tails are one of the most customizable pieces of our appearances. Throughout history, many mermaids and their tails have been painted, drawn, etched, sculpted, and otherwise artistically represented. Tails can be broken down into multiple categories, which I will attempt to do now.
The first distinction to be made: Fish, Aquatic Animal or Mammal. Fish-like tails are the most common ones represented, but mammals and aquatic animals are rare, but still featured in popular culture. Everyone’s famous drag-queen-esque villain Ursula the Sea Witch and her whiney, less competent sister with a huge complex Morgana (from Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and The Little Mermaid 2: Return To The Sea) are prime examples of Aquatic Animal mermaids (Octo-mers, perhaps?)
Ursula from the movie, and Queen Latifah as Ursula for the Disney Dream Portrait series
Sea Princess Azuri: Orcan Mermaid Fashion sketches *copyrighted to Erica Leigh Curry*
As far as Mammalian mermaids, we have very few examples to go off of. We do however have Sea Princess Azuri, a short lived comic by Erica Leigh Currey, (nee Reis) about a betrothed Orcan (human/orca hybrid) Princess that falls in love with her childhood friend and bodyguard. We also have Sora, from Kingdom Hearts, who when in Atlantica (from The Little Mermaid) has a dolphin tail.
Then after you get through that decision, you have to decide: “Hybrid/Anthro or Classic”. The classic design is the most used; it is the design where there is a clear separation between the fish part and the human half. Usually the devision is a few inches below the waist (like Ariel from The Little Mermaid). Sea Princess Azuri, for example, is a fabulous example of an Anthro hybrid mermaid. Hybrid mermaids have no division between the fish and the human. They are blended all over. This is usually a more “monstrous” design. Put simply, if you want a pretty sunbathing siren, go with the Classic design, but if you want to create a monster mermaid, go with the Anthro design.
Next decision: internal workings. Do the bones inside resemble that of a snake, an extension of the spine which would allow them to bend and coil however they please at any of the vertebrae? Or Do they resemble our legs, with a knee bone and 2 thigh bones? Most classic paintings all over the world employ the snake-like design.
The Little Mermaid Statue, erected 1913 in Copenhagen
One of the noted exceptions is the Little Mermaid Statue in Copenhagen, which celebrated it’s 100 year anniversary this year in August. It is quite clear that this little mermaid is bending at the knee-bone area. However, her tail brings us to the next distinction between tails and tail types.
Zac from Mako Mermaids.
Proportions. These are super-important to me, as a performing Mer. A lot of art depicts mermaids with elongated tails with small flukes, or exorbitantly large fins. The children’s show H2O: Just Add Water (and it’s spinoff series Mako Mermaids) are a fine example of tails that aren’t entirely proportionate to the the human form. While it works for art and drawings, this type of thing can make swimming difficult. Which leads to the final, most vast difference with tail types.
Fluke style and shape. With Fish-like tails, we have millions of designs to chose from. Every fish in the ocean can serve as inspiration for fins and finshape. Most fit into one or more of 7 categories: Rounded, Pointed, Square/Truncated, Lunate, Forked, Indented, or Bi-fin.
Using the chart above, Zack’s tail is a mix between Lunate and Truncated/Square, with a hint of indented. Disney mermaids are Forked Bi-fins (possibly Pointed Bi-fins, this is definitely up for discussion)
Overall, Mermaids have been portrayed a thousand different ways over the course of these hundreds of years. Chances are, out there, there’s a design that fits you the best.