The Marine Imaginary

Have you ever wondered why scuba diving is attractive to you? It’s said that diving reminds us of the time when we were the womb. However, as with everything, there are many possible explanations. We present you an alternative theory: the marine imaginary

The fantasy of the underwater world is ever present. From a young age, you can see it in books and movies. For the young, the underwater world seems mysterious and dangerous; but, at the same time (and maybe therefore?) it’s very seductive. This seductive power of the sea is strong. Is it the unknown? Or maybe the threat of a dark silent world?


The human fascination for, and the mythology created around the underwater world can been found dating back as early as ancient Greece. Especially in literature; in narratives and poetry.

One of the first examples can be seen in the twelve labours of Hercules. Hercules had to kill the Hydra of Leme, a water snake with several heads and a dog’s body. Another early example is Scylla, the marine monster, in Homer’s Odyssey.

marine imaginary - mythology
Ancient Greek urns depicting marine mythology

In the Renaissance period (14th-17th century), the age of discoveries, still very little was known about the marine world. On charts, cartographers showed marine monsters to adorn empty spaces. This was not just to fill the space, but also because they still believed in their existence. In this context, we should also mention the different representations of the mermaids: either as a woman-bird or a woman-fish. Whichever form, they always attracted sailors with their beauty, captivated them with their melodious songs, and then killed them…to eat them.

The marine imaginary continued into the 19th century. On one side of the Atlantic, you had “Moby Dick” by the American novelist Herman Melville and on the other side “Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea” by Jules Verne in France. Urban legends of various sea monsters continued to exist; such as the Loch Ness Monster and huge octopus or cuttlefish eating boats.

marine imaginary - literature
Visual imaginings from Moby Dick and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

The marine imaginary changes

There are at least 46 authors in Western literature who have written narratives populated by creatures as strange as each other, straight out of collective imagination. These inspirations reflect all the beauty, mystery, and cruelty of the sea, as well as the fascination it has always exerted on the human psyche.

It was not until the second half of the 20th century that we began to properly explore the depths. Since then, little by little, the imaginary creatures have disappeared, giving way to recognized scientific species. By pushing back the limits of the unknown, the human imagination has had to work harder and travel further to find its monsters. This has generally been into the realm of space.

Comic strips and cartoons

In some countries, the comic strip is also a cultural medium that has heavily borrowed from the underwater world. For example, in “Tintin and the Treasure of Rackham the Red” (1944), Herge depicted the underwater landscape with algae, fish, jellyfish and even a shipwreck. He also represented the underwater landscape in a relatively realistic fashion. The same can’t be said of Walt Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” and Pixar’s “Nemo”. Both of these movies completely changed the marine imaginary, showing a much friendlier world.

marine imaginary - cartoons
Tin Tin walking in the deep along with Disney’s Little Mermaid and Pixar’s Finding Nemo

Marine imaginary becomes reality in documentaries

In the mid-twentieth century, the underwater world became visible to a wide audience for the first time with the documentary film: “The Silent World”. In 1956, Jacques Cousteau introduced us to the realities of underwater landscapes and the creatures that inhabited them. He showed and explained the underwater world and its creatures to the world while, still, appealing to the human imagination. This was done through the staging of animal behavior and his hypnotic narration.

Jacques Cousteau in action
Jacques Cousteau, the most famous underwater documentarian of them all

As time has moved forward, this has lead to high definition and even IMAX documentaries such as Blue Planet.

So, what do you think? If you had not grown up with this marvelous (social) marine imaginary, do you think you would have taken up scuba diving? And if it is not for this reason, what is it that made you start scuba diving?

While you are thinking about it … why not start to organise your next liveaboard dive trip with Master Liveaboards? Each of our diving destinations cultivates your marine imaginary: with colourful coral gardens, mysterious wrecks, and exciting wildlife.



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