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Check Out Hannah Fraser’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Hannah Fraser.

Hi Hannah, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
My career as a professional mermaid started with a childhood love of the ocean and of creating art featuring mermaids. I began performing as a mermaid in 2003, and to my knowledge, I was the first to make it a full-time career. Creating a career out of my passion rather than trying to fit into an existing career path hasn’t been easy, but it has been endlessly rewarding. Sometimes I have to pinch myself. It’s hard to believe I’ve created a lifestyle where I get paid to play dress-up… not that my kind of dress-up is always easy or comfortable! It’s difficult to hold your breath and work half blind while water floods your nose, your hair is choking you, and you’re not getting feedback from your photographer. But strangely, modeling and performing underwater is my happy place.

But there’s a dark side to what I do. The harder and longer I worked to build my career as a professional mermaid, the more my mermaid lifestyle exposed me to the degradation of beaches, the loss of coral reefs, and the tragedy of ocean pollution. Eventually, I told myself, “I can’t just enjoy this. All this beauty is going to disappear. I have to take action. I have to speak for the ocean so our children can enjoy it as I have.”

I became a political, social, and environmental activist. As Hannah Mermaid, I have attended Greenpeace events, two International Whaling Commissions, and numerous Earth Day demonstrations. I’ve been to Mexico to swim with sharks, to Hawaii to swim with dolphins, to the Galapagos to swim with sea lions, and to Tonga to swim with whales. Filmmakers and photographers equally passionate about marine preservation have captured me swimming with manta rays, stingrays, turtles, seals, great whites, and a wide variety of other sea life to defend their rights to exist without harm or pollution in their natural habitats. In Taiji, Japan, I swam in the blood of dolphins to bring awareness to their senseless slaughter. And in Valencia, Spain, I gave a TED talk called “Turning Fantasy into Reality” to express my dream that we can create a world where all creatures are valued and protected.

I take this message wherever I perform. I’ve worked in many of the world’s top aquariums, performed at fancy Bel Air parties, appeared for free at the Police Kids’ Club in downtown Los Angeles, and been featured in countless photoshoots, ad campaigns, and short films.

HISTORY:

My Australian mother—a beautiful, artistic, free-spirited yogi—met my English father—the bassist for the 1970s rock band Free—in London. I was born in Surrey, but we moved to Los Angeles when I was still a baby. That’s where my sister, Jasmine, was born. For the first seven years of my life, my family moved around LA, eventually settling on the outskirts of town in a house with a pool surrounded by desert-like mountains.

For as long as I can remember, my mother told me fantastical stories. Through her stories, I came to inhabit a magical world of deep forests where fairies could be found and far-off lands where a carpet ride.

As early as age three, I began drawing fairies, princesses, and goddesses. But I was especially entranced by the sea and drew dolphins and mermaids as well. I remember building a clay diorama in a cardboard box populated with octopuses, fish, and mermaids playing among the seaweed. I loved the idea of mermaids so much that soon, even my stick figures had mermaid tails. I was always creating mermaid art and little sculptures that I would decorate with shells and seaweed.

Throughout my childhood, my mother, always an open-minded seeker of spiritual truth, was an avid practitioner of meditation. My family traveled often to India to be with her guru and his students from all over the world in a beautiful ashram of sacred temples, marble courtyards, peacocks, and deer. There, I learned techniques for relaxation, improved health, and a deep understanding of existence. This expanded my sense of other realms and invisible forces and contributed greatly to my unique perspective and approach to life.

I continued to draw my visions of fantasy creatures and landscapes, often centering on the mermaid myth and fairy folklore. I started researching mermaids, going to the local library, and asking for books that would tell me where to find these wonderful creatures. I was so frustrated that no one could give me valid information on their whereabouts!

Then in 1984, ‘Splash’ hit theaters. I became completely obsessed with the imagery of a real-life mermaid. I had posters of Daryl Hannah’s all over my room. Splash made me realize I could turn my dream world into reality.

“I want to make a mermaid tail,” I told my mother.

So, with an orange plastic tablecloth, pillow stuffing, black paint, and the help of my artistic and supportive mother, I crafted my first tail at age 9. When it got wet, it got heavy, and the paint wore off in the pool. Nevertheless, I was in my element, swimming hard like a dolphin so that tail wouldn’t drag me under! I swam in it until it disintegrated. My friends would visit and laugh at me, but they always ended up wanting to swim with me anyway.

Shortly after my mom, sister and I moved from LA to Melbourne, Australia. I was hours away from the very cold ocean, land bound without a pool to even keep up my mermaid practice. So, throughout my school years, I made artwork constantly to keep my vision alive.

At university in Melbourne, I studied graphic design. Much to my mother’s dismay, I left before I graduated because I was bored with subjects like typography, cut-paper design, and art history. Anything that didn’t allow me to create the fantastical images that populated my overactive imagination felt like a waste of my time. I was unfulfilled.

My life near the ocean began when I sold everything I owned and moved to Byron Bay, New South Wales, a gorgeous surf town boasting endless white beaches, rolling green hills, and subtropical rainforests—I found the unrestricted environment I needed to flourish. Back in the early 1990s, Byron Bay was enjoying an influx of psychedelic expats from the Goa India trance scene, green-fingered weed kings, sea-change city escapees, and yoga and meditation alternative lifestylers.

The people were colorful, creative, and unabashedly self-expressive, pushing the boundaries of what society had told us were the rules. I loved it.

I turned my art into clothing, greeting cards, stickers, paintings, prints, and posters to sell at markets. I joined eco-activist groups trying to stop the destruction of old-growth forests. Once, I dressed as a fairy with dainty wings and stood in front of bulldozers, during them to roll through my magic.

I made mermaid art that I sold to about 300 shops around Australia. I got into modeling, performing, and designing costumes, and I used my photography skills to create portfolios for young models entering the industry.

I was living a creative, self-sustaining, freelance life. Yet something was still missing.

In 2002, I was hired for an underwater modeling photoshoot, and the resulting imagery showed me that I was born to be in the water. It was like bringing my art to life!

Seeing myself as the canvas to bring my fantasies to life, the urge to create a proper adult mermaid tail took hold. My surfer partner suggested I try neoprene fabric like a wetsuit. A local seamstress stitched in a hidden zipper, an engineer showed me how to fashion my own mono fin from basic flippers, and my mother helped paint scales. My first ocean swims in my blue tail was magical and thrilling. Finally, I was a mermaid!

To this day, my tails are feats of engineering resulting from years of experimentation. Each takes more than six months to make. There’s a lot of intensive sewing, gluing, and constructing. Every single scale is sewn by hand, every silicone fin hand-molded. I made four tails myself, but the rest have been the result of collaborations with amazing skilled artisans. They are labors of love, but they’re worth it.

I think of my tails as high-end art pieces. They blend buoyancy, flexibility, and aesthetics to allow me to swim rapidly and acrobatically, emulating the grace of a dolphin. They’re functional and durable, but they’re also beautiful. My superhero cape is my tail, which allows me to perform underwater with grace and ease.

In 2010, I made the decision to leave Australia and move to Los Angeles, where there were more opportunities for a model, performer, and mermaid, gradually raising awareness of the need to protect marine life and ocean ecology. Soon enough, I was juggling film appearances, magazine and television interviews, collaboration requests from activists, performances, and photoshoots.

With so much traveling, I had to design a giant heart-shaped bag in which to carry my tail, which is too heavy and unwieldy to fit in any standard container. The bag often raises eyebrows in airports on my way to Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas or to my mermaid-training residency in Bali.

I’ve also had the opportunity to do some fun and unusual commercial modeling. I once traveled to Capri, Italy, to shoot a Rolex watch ad as a mermaid. And now that clothing designers have seen the imagery I can produce underwater, I get requests to model for them. It feels weird to put on a gorgeous designer gown and jump into the water—I feel more like a drowned rat than a model—but once I am under the surface, I come to life. I’m eternally grateful to the designers who trust me enough to let me dunk their creations. I always joke that their clothes will come back cleaner after a shoot with me than after any other shoot.

My passions have converged, and I have become the living example of my fantasy dreams as the first professional freelance mermaid in the world.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
When I first got into ocean activism, I just wanted to tell everyone about all the terrible things happening all the time. People around me — while they appreciated my efforts — they didn’t really want to look at it. It’s a hard world to live in, and what we’d rather do is try to find beauty, love and happiness. So I had to figure how to turn these hard lessons and challenges that we’re facing into beauty that inspires people to action.

Images of inspiration and connection have been much more successful than hitting people over the head with guilt and shame, and they’ve done just as much to wake people up to the issues.

If you are lucky enough to have a voice that people listen to, you’re obligated to do whatever you can to use that voice for positive change. I don’t really see it as a choice, more as a blessing and a gift to be able to stand up and have my voice heard.

I hope that by seeing a real-life mermaid, people will connect that vision to what is really happening in the ocean. I hope they’ll start to see themselves as part of that symbiotic relationship rather than it being this very separate world.

The ocean creatures are unique, magnificent, intelligent and imperative in our world’s ecosystem to keep everything balanced. Seeing these animals diminishing in number around the planet, getting sick from pollution, being slaughtered by humans and fished into extinction breaks my heart.

I decided to create beautiful images of the connection possible between humans and ocean creatures to inspire people around the world to protect and love them. I also started to see the degradation of beautiful locations that I visited due to pollution and rubbish, so I was inspired to bring it to the attention of the world to help instigate real change.

TAIJI DOLPHIN ACTION

I helped organize and participated in the surfers paddle out into the bloody waters of the Taiji cove where dolphins are being slaughtered and captured for six months of every year.

The fishermen were very angry at being filmed doing these violent acts and began to attack us with long fishing sticks and push their boat propellors against our legs.

We held a circle for 20 minutes while the remaining live dolphins squealed and spy hopped, looking at us and moving towards us as if they knew we were there to help. We were unable to free any of them as the cove was roped off by fishermen. Eventually, the police were on their way to arrest us, and we had to leave. All of the dolphins were slaughtered, except a few young ones who are sold into slavery for dolphinariums around the world.

The footage we captured was televised worldwide and featured in the academy award-winning film, The Cove. Millions of people become aware of the issue. This was instrumental in getting mercury-laden dolphin meat taken off the supermarket shelves and out of the government-funded school lunch program! However, the killing continues!

Despite the film’s success, many people haven’t seen it… The common response is ’I don’t want to see dolphins being killed, but I support what you do!’ It seems many of us aren’t willing to face reality when it’s ugly… So how do we galvanize mass awareness and action when something threatens our existence?

SHOOT CHALLENGES

The most physically demanding shoot of my career happened in the Bahamas at ‘Tiger Beach’. I spent six days on the boat with a film crew going through two-hour body paint sessions in the midst of gusty winds before each dive into the ocean. It was hard on my back and my eyes and I ended up with an ear infection. At one point, I thought I couldn’t go through with it anymore.

I was so bone-chillingly cold each time I came up from the depths. The crew would set to work trying to release me from all the costume pieces so I could get warm… The super long tangled wig had to be unpinned, the contact lenses had to be taken out by someone else who wasn’t shivering so hard because I couldnt control my fingers well enough. The weighted boots had to be unlaced and the costume had to be removed.

As soon as I was free, I would scamper into the engine room. It stunk of fuel and wet moldy things… but it was the warmest place on the boat. When the shivers died down and the smell of fumes was more nauseating than warm, I would finally crawl out of the boat hatch. The crew re-named me ‘The Blue Monster Smurf in the Engine Room’

MANTA RAY SHOOT:

Manta Rays are harmless, majestic beings who are hunted relentlessly just for their gills which are sold on the Asian food market. The Convention for International Trade of Endangered Species called CITES meets every three years to decide which animals will be listed for protection. Many people told us mantas would not be considered because of a perception that they are dangerous like the stingray that killed Steve Irwin.

We envisioned creating a story that would highlight mantas and showcase their beauty rather than fuel the unfounded fears.

I have been lucky enough to swim with Manta rays in many countries such as Bali, Fiji and Mexico, but one of the most accessible and awe inspiring locations is the Kona Manta night dives. The huge spotlights lights shining down from the hotels on the coastline attract swarms of tiny shrimp, which in turn lures the Mantas to the nutrient-laden smorgasboard on offer. It’s not unusual to see half a dozen huge mantas swirling in acrobatic circles, scooping up the shrimp and they put on a delightful ballet for the onlookers snorkeling above.

It was here we decided to set our story of connection and redemption for humans and manta rays.

Shawn had amassed a truly impressive array of underwater lighting, which would allow us to shoot in the inky depths at night.

We built specialty lighting rigs that could float on top of the water, held by assistants to stop them floating out of place. We placed more lighting rigs on the ocean floor, weighted down against the endless strong currents.

We had to shoot very late at night after all the other Manta tour boats had left the scene. Just as I was truly wishing for bed and warmth, at around midnight, I would put on a full face of makeup, don a skimpy costume, and get in the chilly water, clinging to the arm of my safety diver for air and security, and we would descend into the inky darkness. I couldn’t suppress the shivers that ran through me, from cold… but also from fear. It’s unnatural enough to be far below the water’s surface, far from life-giving air… but to do it in the dark, without a face mask to be able to see beyond the watery blur, no way to ascend safely myself, and completely reliant on someone else to bring me air… well, I began to doubt my sanity at that point! But the thought that this could help shine a light on the plight facing the mantas gave me the strength to face the darkness.

So there I was on the bottom of the ocean, freezing cold, weighted down with 50lb tied to my ankle, continually pushed onto sharp rocks by strong currents, holding my breath in the darkness, with viper eels wrapping around my legs… and then the mantas showed up, and began dancing inches from my fingertips! The connection was undeniable!

With my blurry underwater vision, I couldn’t see my team of photographers and safety divers around me. All I could see was these giant aliens gliding and somersaulting through the lights shining through the water. It felt like a scene from the sci-fi films ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. or ‘The Abyss’. I was dwarfed by these unknowable, advanced, sentient beings who were dancing in their element while I stole precious moments during breath holds and impossibly challenging physical circumstances.

They had no fear of me… if I stayed in my state of relaxation and grace. If I flailed or freaked out, they would disappear with the flap of one giant wingtip.

The larger species of manta ray, Manta Birostris, can grow to a width of more than 20 feet and can weigh more than a tonne.

Sadly, global manta populations have been ravaged over recent years due, in part, to demand from the Chinese medicine market and as an alternative to the dwindling supply of Shark fins for soup. We have decimated shark populations and now we have begun to annihilate the Manta families!

The footage we captured was edited on the same night that the five day shoot wrapped, and we released the short film ‘Mantas Last Dance’. The film went viral worldwide! People who had never even known these creatures existed were now campaigning for their safety! In addition to becoming photo art, the images were used in a conservation video campaign that helped motivate CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) to list Manta Rays for international protection in 2013, garnering more votes than any other animal, land or sea.

MOBULA RAYS:

I also danced on the ocean floor with Mobula Rays swirling around them like a flock of graceful birds. It took exceptional skill, training and courage to make this extremely challenging shoot look effortless.

At night, tiny shrimp are attracted to the lights in the water, drawing in Mobula Rays who enjoy a feast on this concentration of their natural food source. It’s a win/win situation for all!

We had an extremely precise vision and we story-boarded and rehearsed each and every shot on land prior to entering the sea. We needed to nail. Regardless, we were all apprehensive as to the chances of actually capturing this never-before-seen imagery. The shoot was so difficult on many levels that a single misstep or technical failure could have proved devastating for the project. However, the moment the dance began to unfold underwater with these amazing animals, we knew we had captured something special!

We encountered a lot of challenges with this shoot. Upon arriving in La Paz, we were welcomed by a Category 2 Hurricane whose path went directly over us! We had no choice but to button down the hatches and wait out the storm. When we were finally able to shoot, The water was really cold and we were shivering before we even touched down on the ocean floor. The intense cold had a significant impact on our breath-hold ability and severely limited our bottom time. Though the massive quantity of tiny shrimp in the water served to attract over 100 Mobula Rays, it also drastically reduced water clarity, and the shrimp had a propensity to crawl into our ears, eyes & noses. To add to the unusual risks, fireworms (creepy crawly underwater centipedes that shoot painful spikes) joined the fray, along with poisonous pufferfish and camouflaged stingrays!

The technical challenges included; creating a dance stage on the ocean floor lit up by massive surface lighting units and on-camera fill lighting, extremely low-light shooting conditions, timing the movements of the models and rays, managing the buoyancy of the models underwater, the models being blinded by intense lighting units with no masks or scuba gear, a dress that was so long it kept getting tangled around the models head and air hoses, a complex and regimented safety diver protocol that supplied life-supporting air to the model every 1-2 minutes, a complex storyboard that required comedic gesticulations between Shawn and the models and more. All things considered, it was a miracle that we were able to get a single successful shot!

So many things have to be in alignment to make something like this work… Weather, swell, current, water visibility, animal interaction, model’s ability, life-supporting safety divers, lighting, temperature, and of course cameraman skill! You learn when working with the ocean that you have to just flow with it!

The hand-picked crew we assembled were not just top of their fields but also incredibly passionate about the ocean and conservation.

Despite the most intense working conditions, I was able to find total freedom and surrender in this underwater dance. Meeting these animals is like having a close encounter with the most graceful beautiful aliens. They seemed to flow with me and interact when I danced.

To keep me going when it got really difficult, I just keep thinking that if I can show everyone in the world how special these animals are, no amount of effort would be in vain!

I have had so many encounters with ocean animals that re-affirm how intelligent and charismatic they are, which inspires me to push beyond all personal fears and physical limitations in order to create these art-conservation projects.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
MERMAID CULTURE

It’s unbelievable how fast this sub-culture is growing. When I started performing as a mermaid in 2003, there were no other freelance professional mermaids in the world… No one had figured out that it could be a career path!

Now that people have caught on to the idea, there are thousands of Mers around the world with their own tails working towards being professional mermaids. I headlined at the first-ever world mermaid awards (Mer-con) in Vegas, where hundreds of Mer-enthusiasts turned up and there was a pool filled to overflowing with merpeople in tails!

Despite being interviewed by Business Week magazine on the burgeoning new mermaid business, It’s still a very new industry. When I am asked to refer other mermaids for events, there is only a handful that I know are capable and professional enough to pull it off.

To be able to create convincing mermaid photos and footage you need to have a very strong breath-hold ability, an extremely strong swimming ability (with your legs bound together) to look comfortable and beautiful underwater, get dive certified, not be afraid of underwater wildlife, have ocean experience in tides, currents, waves, deal with varying temperature, swim with your eyes open underwater without goggles, and have modeling experience! And to appear in public like this, you need to be outgoing, personable, friendly, confident, and unafraid of looking like a freak!

I teach more than the basic 1,2,3 of swimming underwater.

I believe being a mermaid is to inhabit a frequency of grace, joy, connection to nature, empowerment, and unashamed self-expression

With filmmakers and photographers who are equally passionate about the preservation of marine species, I have swum with manta rays, Mobula rays, great whites, and tiger sharks to defend their right to exist without harm or pollution in their natural habitat.

I have worked in many of the world’s top aquariums, performed at large-scale events, and been featured in photo shoots, campaigns, and short films for many large companies and creative ventures. I have swum with great white sharks, whales, dolphins, manta rays, stingrays, turtles, seals, and a wide variety of other sea life.

Hannah Fraser created the vocation of ‘Freelance Mermaid’ in 2003. She has been hailed as ‘Queen of the mermaids’, featured worldwide for her ocean conservation and underwater performance art, creating spectacular mermaid tails, performing for film, music videos, photo campaigns, public speaking, events & environmental actions. She trains mermaids for live stage acts and underwater performances, curating alluring groups of sirens to delight audiences worldwide.

Hannah dances with sharks, whales dolphins, seals, turtles, rays, and more in the open ocean, capturing breathtaking imagery of human & animal encounters as an advocate for ocean protection, female empowerment, animal conservation, and universal love!

Contact Info:


Image Credits:

Chanel Baron, Shawn Heinrichs, David Benz, Abraham Perez, Alicia Ward

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