Underwater swimmer Hannah Fraser has been fascinated with mermaids since she was three years old. Hannah, 36, an Australian who now lives in LA, made her first mermaid tail at the age of nine, after seeing the film Splash with Daryl Hannah. Now she works as a model, actress and performer, swimming with whales, dolphins, stingrays and even sharks.
Hannah can hold her breath for up to two minutes and swim to depths of 45 feet, allowing her to move like a real mermaid, without the restraints of diving gear.
In these images she is seen swimming with humpback whales off Vava’u Island, Tonga, to promote marine conservation and oppose whale hunting.
Hannah and her then husband Dave Rastovich, a surfer, were upset and frustrated after International Whaling Commission meetings where whaling nations were allowed to continue their slaughter under the guise of ‘scientific research’.
‘It was depressing and we wanted to go somewhere to connect with the whales and to raise awareness,’ said Hannah.
The couple flew to Tonga with photographer Ted Grambeau, who was able to capture beautiful images of humpbacks swimming with Hannah, in scenes documented by filmmaker Bali Strickland.
‘A baby humpback was curious and actually came up to me,’ said Hannah.
‘The whales were singing so loudly and the baby whale was squealing, which sounds even louder under the water. It was a very powerful experience.’
Many photographs for anti-whaling campaigns show brutal acts including harpooning and whales being winched onto ships, which can be too horrific for ordinary observers.
But Ted’s images appear in the children’s book, The Surfer and the Mermaid, and aim to inspire whale conservation. He added: ‘All the shots of Hannah are really poetic – really just surreal, beautiful shots.’
In 2007, Hannah swam in the sea in Taiji, Japan, with 30 surfers, celebrities and musicians, in an attempt to halt the ruthless slaughter of thousands of dolphins by local fishermen.
Hannah remembers: ‘Half of the dolphins had been caught and the others were roped off in the middle of the bay to be herded towards the fishermen.
‘Instead of being frightened, the dolphins were trying to come closer to us in their net, as if they knew we wanted to help them.
‘But at this point the fishermen were hitting us with sticks and moving their boat propellers towards us. We couldn’t get any closer and we couldn’t save the dolphins.
‘It was indescribable to see this happening and have to abandon them. I cried for hours afterwards. It was hard to be part of the human race at the point.’
Two years later, in 2009, Hannah swam in her tail with 14ft Great White Sharks off Guadalupe island, Mexico.
‘I thought if I was going to be a professional mermaid I’d have to face my fear of sharks,’ she admitted.
After trying out the shark-infested waters in scuba gear, Hannah was about to put on her mermaid tail, when one of the sharks became trapped in the diver’s cage.
‘Luckily the shark freed itself in time. But it made me realise it was safer not to use the cage,’ she said.
‘I got my tail on and got into the water. I was supposed to be surrounded by divers, but in the mermaid tail I swim much faster than anyone else. I realised I was on my own, but I stayed calm.’
She added: ‘Another time a shark turned round and came towards me, so I made a scary face and screamed at it in the water. Amazingly I scared it off. I felt invincible for months afterwards.’
Filmmaker Rob Benavides is currently shooting a documentary about Hannah’s life, which will feature her work as a model, diver, and sea-life campaigner.
‘One of the imperative messages in marine conservation right now is overfishing,’ she said. ‘We should be asking countries to better regulate their fishing industries.
‘We shouldn’t be eating any fish, but if any it should be only little ones. Large fish take years to grow and reach maturity. If we continue taking them from the ocean it will be a long time before stocks are replenished.’
Hannah Fraser is featured in a new children’s book Last Night I Swam With A Mermaid by Kimberley Muller.