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Marine biologist explains why 'The Little Mermaid' being Black makes perfect scientific sense

'If they're transparent, they can blend in well … But that makes for difficult movie shooting. I don't think they'll find any transparent actresses.'

Marine biologist explains why 'The Little Mermaid' being Black makes perfect scientific sense
Cover Image Source: YouTube/Walt Disney Studios

Editor's note: This article was originally published on September 15, 2022. It has since been updated.

Ever since Disney released a teaser of its highly anticipated live-action movie "The Little Mermaid," social media has seen a truly heartwarming influx of videos documenting what it means for young Black girls to see someone like them portraying a classic Disney princess. However, there have also been many who aren't too happy about a Black actress playing Ariel—a mythical creature who could be purple like Thanos and have tentacles sprouting out of her face for all the difference it would make to the storyline. Unfortunately for these traditionalists, according to marine biologist and National Museum of Natural History curator Karen Osborn, it actually makes perfect scientific sense to cast 22-year-old Halle Bailey as the lead in the movie.


Speaking to BuzzFeed, Osborn—whose studies explore how a fish's skin, scales and surface help them survive—explained: "As you move through the water column—as you dive deeper and deeper—right at the surface, a lot of things are blue because you blend in with the sky behind you for predators that are down below looking up. And then you have a bunch of mirrored animals, so they just reflect whatever's around them and that's good camouflage in shallow water."


"As you get deeper," Osborn continued, "you see animals that are pigmented or deep red [because] there's hardly any red light in the deep sea, so being red is effectively being black. Then you see lots of brown fish and lots of black fish and lots of ultra-black fish." She added that being black in color is advantageous for both predators and prey in the deep sea since the color absorbs light. "Being black in the deep sea is a really good camouflage because once you get below 300 meters, it gets really dark and there are a lot of organisms down there that produce light — about 86% of animals in the deep ocean [are bioluminescent], and a lot of that is used to look for prey," she said. "So if you absorb all the light that hits you and the background behind you is black, then you blend in really well. But if you reflect back some of that light, then whoever is making that light and searching for prey will see you."


"Some deep see fish have bioluminescent lures, like the anglerfish. They have this lure that hangs out in front of self and animals are attracted to it and come in to see what that light is, and they get gobbled up," Osborn explained. "If you're trying to attract something in like that, you don't want to be obvious... They want to be able to hang out a light to attract prey, but they don't want that light to light them up. So if the light disappears into their skin? No problem." Adding her two cents to all the talk about mermaid skin colors, the marine biologist said she believes mermaids would be transparent as that would make them "the most suited to the most types of habitats in the shallower water, because if they're transparent, they can blend in pretty well... But that makes for difficult movie shooting. I don't think they'll find any transparent actresses."


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