IDENTIFIED IN some versions of the email as a "Devil Fish," the gruesome specimen in the preceding photographs doesn't really exist. It's a fine example of what is called "gaff art" — the manufacture of sideshow artifacts or fake oddities out of the preserved body parts of real animals using taxidermy and prop-building techniques. It was first sighted in an eBay auction dated May 2006, where it was described as a "mummified sea monster corpse." The winning bidder paid $637.
It was created by Florida artist Juan Cabana, who was also responsible for the creepy "merman or mermaid carcass" allegedly found washed up on beaches from South Africa to south Florida. Cabana's work echoes that of 17th- and 18th-century Japanese artists such as the anonymous creator of P.T. Barnum's Feejee Mermaid, the most famous artifact of its kind. According to Museum of Hoaxes curator Alex Boese, some of these objects were originally used in religious ceremonies.
Like Barnum, Cabana exhibits (and sells) his creations under the pretext that they're real. But he doesn't consider them hoaxes.
"I'm not trying to fool people," Cabana explained to the St. Petersburg Times in March 2008. "It's not what I do. Most of the time these stories are part of my art."
Dead Mermaid Found in the Philippines
Fairy Pictures / Butterfly Man
Merman / Mermaid Carcass Found on Beach
Sources and further reading:
Tampa Artist Keeps Mermaid Myth Alive
St. Petersburg Times, 14 March 2008
Museum of Hoaxes
Last updated: 10/02/11