David Benz
It’s well known that mythical creatures attract attention. Take the Loch Ness Monster, which has drawn millions of people to Scotland’s murky freshwater loch since the creature first gained worldwide notoriety in 1933. Today, it’s estimated that 85 percent of the Loch Ness region’s one million annual visitors hope to catch a glimpse of Nessie, despite there never having been a credible sighting. From a PR standpoint, it’s a jackpot.

But for Fraser, it’s more important that her persona and the attention it draws help aid the environment — something she says has been a lifelong ambition. Several years ago, Fraser began working with the Australian-­based Surfers for Cetaceans, a nonprofit geared toward mobilizing surfers and ocean lovers worldwide for the conservation and protection of whales, dolphins and marine life. She later parlayed her mainstream appeal by joining pro surfer and then-husband Dave Rastovich on a “paddle out” to combat the slaughter of whales and dolphins off the coast of Taiji, Japan. This peaceful protest was captured in 2009’s Academy Award–winning documentary The Cove and helped draw significant attention to Taiji’s annual hunt and controversial killing techniques. “Mermaids are ­interesting role models,” Fraser says. “They are ­independent — mysterious yet vulnerable — and they exemplify eternal youthfulness. They’re also a symbol of man’s connection to the ocean in a very visual way. At a time when our waters are being so threatened by oil spikes, global warming and trash islands, it makes sense to see the resurgence of mermaids as a figure­head for ocean life.”

NOW YOU KNOW: Each of Fraser’s monofins takes four months to make. This includes hand-stitching each scale to the fabric on the fin.

Though Fraser is the closest thing to an actual mermaid for some people, plenty of others believe in the real deal. Just last year, Animal Planet aired a pseudo-documentary­ called Mermaids: The Body Found that turned to the aquatic-ape hypothesis — a theory that speculates that our ancestors may have been more amphibious than we think — and used a combination of computer animation, fact and both authentic and fabricated footage to allude to the possibility of mermaids. The show was so convincing, in fact, that the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association felt compelled to release an online statement in response stating that “no evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found.” And a few years prior, Israel’s coastal town of Kiryat Yam actually offered a $1 million reward for proof of a mermaid after numerous eyewitnesses saw what looked like “a cross between a little girl and a dolphin” doing acrobatics in the Mediterranean Sea at sunset. As with the Loch Ness Monster, true evidence is difficult to come by. Despite this, the sightings have helped increase tourism to the area and attracted developers keen on cashing in on humans’ insatiable appetite for mystery.

While most people recognize that mermaids do not exist, Fraser points out that nearly all cultures have legends of similar sea creatures, so they must be based on something. Either way, mermaids are riding a new wave of indisputable popularity — and Fraser is right out in front. 

When she’s not interviewing exotic sea creatures, LAURA KINIRY travels the globe gathering stories for ­American Way and other publications, including BBC.com, Smithsonianmag.com and O, The Oprah Magazine.