The Truth About Sirens: Separating Myth from Reality

siren mythology
  • Sirens are known as seductive creatures that originate from Greek mythology.
  • Many sailors throughout history claim to have seen real-life sirens.
  • The songs of humpback whales, the singing sand dunes, and the hum of certain cities are known to have similar effects to a siren’s song.

Sirens have been a part of mythology and folklore for centuries, known for their enchanting songs and ability to lure sailors to their doom. But how much of what we know about sirens is based on fact, and how much is simply myth and legend?

In this blog post, we’ll explore the truth about sirens and answer the question are sirens real, explain what’s the difference between sirens and mermaids, and dive into the history and science behind these elusive creatures.

mermaid with dolphins

The Mythology of Sirens

Sirens originate from Greek mythology, where these creatures are described as having an enchanting voice used to lure sailors to their death.

According to Greek mythology, sirens were known to be hybrid companions to the goddess Persephone. Their transformation to sirens was a punishment from the goddess Demeter for failing to protect her daughter from Hades.

Roman mythology describes sirens more or less the same, but here they are associated more with the underworld, where they torture the souls of the dead in the afterlife. In some myths, it is believed that sirens are a creation of the god Juno who punished mortal women for breaking their marital vows.

During the medieval period, sirens were depicted as mermaids associated with sin, and it wasn’t till the Renaissance that people started to romanticize them as beautiful naked women. At the beginning of the 20th century, mermaids and sirens became popular subjects for artists, and today they have found their place in movies, video games, books, and comics.

The Reality of Siren Physiology

We must first explain the difference between siren vs mermaid. According to some stories, mermaids are harmless creatures who only transform into sirens once they turn evil.

Since the beginning of this myth, everyone has been asking the question, “Are sirens real?” To this day, there isn’t any sufficient evidence to prove this myth. Historically many sailors claim to have seen women who, instead of legs, have a fishtail, but today it is believed that what sailors actually saw were manatees.

In the past, it was very common for sailors to drink salt water, which may have led to hallucinations. This not only explains how they could have confused a manatee with a mermaid, but it also explains the enchanting song they claimed to hear.

The Science Behind Siren Calls

Hearing a sound means that sound waves must come in contact with our eardrum, and from there, our brain transforms the sound into a sensation. Higher frequencies set us on alert, while deep and quiet sounds tend to be more relaxing. Since different sounds differently impact our brains, you can see why a siren call could be dangerous, if it exists.

According to legend, sirens had magical voices that lured sailors into doing their bidding. A siren’s song was said to be powerful enough to make sailors forget their names.

humpback whales

Real-Life Examples of Siren Calls

Although a siren’s song isn’t real, some animals make hypnotizing sounds like those of humpback whales, who use these sounds to communicate and locate food. Other sounds with the same alluring effect are the singing sand dunes which produce an audible vibration caused by avalanches.

Even the “hum” of certain cities can produce the same effect described while hearing a siren’s song. These types of sounds have some sort of calming effect on some humans and are often played to make them sleep.

Sirens in Literature and Popular Culture

Sirens became famous after appearing in Homer’s Odyssey, where he talks about how he managed to escape the vicious creatures. John William Waterhouse’s painting of a mermaid became an iconic picture in the 19th century, reproduced in a large number of posters and postcards.

Today there are many TV shows, books, video games, and movies like “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” and “Bioshock” where mermaids and sirens take a significant role as a symbol for something beautiful but deadly.

a semblance of a mermaid

The Dangers of Siren Mythology

People witness the evolution of mermaid and siren legends in many cultures. Even though the legends about sirens and mermaids are harmless, they can perpetuate harmful stereotypes and beliefs about women. By describing them as seductive and manipulative creatures, they are used to tie a woman’s worth to her sexuality and appearance. Throughout history, it was very common for men to blame their weakness and lack of control on the seductive beauty of a woman.

The romanticization of sirens is used to ignore the real dangers of the ocean and the need for marine conservation. Sirens are also used as a distraction away from the real problem our ocean faces today.


Sirens may be creatures of legend, but their influence has been felt throughout history and continues to captivate our imaginations today. By exploring the truth about mermaids and sirens and separating myth from reality, we can gain a deeper understanding of these creatures and their place in our cultural history. Whether they’re viewed as dangerous temptresses or symbols of the ocean’s beauty, sirens will continue to fascinate us for generations to come.

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