TODAY   |  June 01, 2013

Mermaid documentary smells fishy to critics

An Animal Planet documentary on mermaids is causing some controversy as it blurs the lines between fiction and fact. NBC News’ Michelle Franzen reports.

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>>> milk-bone. mermaids have long been the mystery of the sea. christopher columbus has said to spot one. as michelle franzen reports, a recent fictional documentary on animal planet created a whole new wave of confusion.

>>> with sweeping underwater visuals and reenactments of reported sightings, animal planet 's latest fictional documentary mermaids , the new evidence reeled in a record audience for the network with 3.6 million viewers. more than the cable channel 's popular meerkat manor series and the puppy bowl .

>> people voted with their remotors. so it certainly wasn't too real to be entertaining. i think it's provocative. i think it's a conversation.

>> it is the sequel to last year's mermaids , the body found. the make believe, never seen footage and scientific theories acted out were trending on twitter. and spawned a debate on whether mermaids really exist.

>> sure, i believe in mermaid, yes.

>> i do not believe in mermaids . but i believe that there are people who will believe there are mermaid after watching this show.

>> the program drew criticism from one marine biologist who wrote on slate.com, despite millennia of humans exploring the ocean, no credible evidence of the existence of mermaids has ever been found. the mythical creatures draw the same curiosity as the lochness monst monster, bigfoot and vampires and have been glamorized on the big screen . tom hanks fell in love with one in splash and of course disney's "the little mermaid ".

>> the mermaids travel with whales.

>> media critics say the entertaining take on mermaids builds on that history.

>> should something per purporting to be a real documentary always announce it is fake? technically yes. but again we're talking about mermaids . i don't see how you could be fooled by this.

>> hysterically entertaining or accurate, it is likely we haven't heard or seen the last of the tall tale of the seas. for "today," michelle franzen , nbc news, new york.

>>> i was raised by a scientist. no way i'm falling for it.

>> i believe that other guy. he says that i believe that there are people who believe there are mermaids after watching that. i'm not one of them.