With all the ponderous solemnity we expect from a government department, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has informed the world that there are, in fact, no mermaids.
In denying their existence, NOAA calls them "aquatic humanoids", a sadly clinical term for these creatures, half human female and half fish, who have enlivened the dreary moonlit midwatch of many a sailor over the centuries. Folklorists suspect that the myth began with a real marine mammal, the dugong.
Contrary to appearances, the US agency does actually have a full-time job monitoring environmental conditions. This diversion happens to coincide with an Animal Planet show exploring fishy tales, although NOAA officials would not comment on the connection.
The agency is not alone in denying the unconfirmable: just last month the US Centres for Disease Control chose to announce that no zombie apocalypse is imminent, since the dead do not come back to life. This assurance was needed after some Americans took literally a CDC emergency-preparedness campaign about a "zombie pandemic".
So now Uncle Sam - himself only a symbol - has spoken on both mermaids and zombies. Still no word about vampires or unicorns.