When people ask what Erin Gallagher, Lauren Freeman and Katie Shultz do for a living, they are definitely a little confused when the girls casually reply that they are ... mermaids.
"They say 'well what do you mean you're a mermaid?,'" Erin explains. "Then I describe what I do, [how I] literally go in the water and I am a mermaid. They have lots of questions. We're all professional divers here at the aquarium. We do guest diving programs where we'll take guests in to do dives with our sharks. We also do a lot of the grunt work. We'll get in and clean the exhibits, and that's not such a mermaid task, but we do it anyways."
At the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, the ladies make mer-life look easy -- but getting those fins on isn't a swim in the park. "It does take a lot to get ready the tails are so custom fit that it's actually hard to get into them. It takes a good 10 minutes to actually get the tail on," Lauren explains.
"Swimming with a tail on and having your feet bound is a lot different than swimming with fins on and being on scuba," Erin says. "So for us to learn to do it and then on top of that trying to look pretty at the same time, that was the challenge."
Though they make it seem effortless, Katie explains that it's certainly not easy to go from human to mermaid every day. "I think people think that its easy, they see the finished product. They see us in there with our makeup done in these gorgeous tails that we have, gracefully swimming around, doing choreographed routines to music. It takes a long time to get there."
Erin also explains that to "look comfortable while holding your breath under water and not look like you're in pain" is really difficult -- after all, the ladies have to look ethereal even when there's salt water in their eyes. Erin explains that it's also really tricky not to get distracted by the fish. (Could you hold your breath for that long and still smile and wave?)
Still, the women say there's nothing like coming into work and putting on those fins. "It really is like a dream come true," Erin says, and her fellow mermaids agree.
So, what of their detractors who may want to point out that mermaids aren't, well ... creatures that actually exist?
"No matter what the government says, mermaids are real," Lauren says with a twinkle in her eye.
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