Her name is Brittany Oliver but to starry-eyed children who queue up to get a glimpse of her at the larger-than-life Lost Chambers Aquarium at the Atlantis The Palm, in Dubai, she’s simply the Mermaid of Atlantis. Yes, a real mermaid! There, in the gigantic tanks, with an assortment of marine life for company, Oliver—tail et al—her long hair streaming behind her, conforms quite well to the cinematic portrayals of the mythical creature she pretends to be. Gliding and dolphin-kicking her way past denizens of the sea (who she says have now got used to her presence) and blowing circular kisses at transfixed children, while free-diving for as long as five minutes, Oliver brings extraordinary skill sets to an extraordinary job.
“I’ve always loved the water, from the time I was a child. There’s nothing like being in the ocean—the sound of the waves, animals, and the weightlessness is very relaxing and I feel at home. Mermaids love animals and protect them as much as they can, I do the same,” she says in all earnestness. The South African lass who’s been working at the pre-eminent hotel and resort in Dubai for a year-and-a-half is a qualified marine biologist and moonlights as an aquarist in the small exhibits of Lost Chambers Aquarium managing the tanks and the animals to ensure they get the highest quality care. Mermaid-ing isn’t an easy job though, even for a seasoned free-diver like Oliver. The tail isn’t light, and the fish-like motion she uses to propel herself is quite physically demanding. “As a professional free-diver, being underwater comes naturally. However, being a mermaid is a whole new ball game and it takes a lot of practice and persistence,” she says.
Reactions range from “shock, awe, and love from boys to girls, from kids to adults.” Not surprisingly, lots of young fans refuse to believe that she’s not the real thing. “I once had a girl ask me how I was going to get back into the ocean. And I told her that my special water-taxi will fetch me soon. Children are so innocent and beautiful,” she says wistfully. At the crux of Oliver’s motivation lies an inherent love for the oceans and all the life they contain. “For me, it’s about bringing the myth to life. Mermaids are the ambassadors of the ocean and real life mermaids, can inspire children to also become ambassadors of the ocean. Showing children, that people and nature can live in harmony. In addition, it is a great way to let your imagination run wild. As if mermaids exist, what else does too?”