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Fin-tastic! AP dives deep into the world of mermaiding

Queen Pangke Tabora swims in her mermaid suit while she conducts a mermaiding class in front of the Ocean Camp in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines, May 22, 2022. “The world outside is really noisy and you will find peace under water,” she says. “It’s a good skill in the real world, especially during the pandemic.” (AP Photo / Aaron Favila)

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AP all-formats teams reported from the Philippines and Australia for this engaging package that introduced readers and viewers to the growing subculture of mermaiding, and how it has come to represent diversity.

After a year of writing about human rights abuses in Myanmar, investigative reporter Kristen Gelineau desperately needed something different. Something lighter … happier … splashier.

Enter the mermaids — or,as they are more accurately known,merfolk,a growing community around the world. Gelineau also revealed how mermaiding has become something of a vehicle for diversity,attracting trans merfolk,merfolk of color,merfolk of different sizes,etc. She even brought her investigative skills to the darker side of mermaiding,such as merverts and safety considerations,in what is surely the first time the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has received a request for the number of incidents involving mermaid tails. (There are three.) Gelineau’s writing managed to be funny (and punny) while also sensitive.

A mermaiding story would sink without strong visuals,and AP’s photo and video teams delivered. Producer Serginho Roosblad in Sacramento,California,put together a distinctive video with footage by video journalist Joeal Caliputan — from graceful underwater footage to fun interviews,including a merman hanging out on the side of a pool. And the photo team of photographers Mark “Crusty” Baker and Aaron Favila deftly captured the story’s blend of lightness and awareness,under the guidance and direction of New York-based photographer and photo editor Maye-E Wong,who contributed to the presentation by Kii Sato,Asia-Pacific deputy news director for storytelling and photos. From drones to the depths, they explored all angles of the merfolk phenomenon.

The story was second-most-read on the AP News platform,beaten only by coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court. And in a sign of how it resonated worldwide,the piece appeared in huge spreads across the front page of the Philippines’ Business Mirror and in the New Zealand Herald,just to name a couple.

As amusing as it was,the story was enlightening and informative for readers,one of whom wrote: “This is an incredible article of something I knew nothing about and it is fascinating that one of the leading dive organizations in the world is involved.” The transgender Filipina woman in the story’s lead was overjoyed,writing (with many emojis): “Being recognized and appreciated is such a huge milestone and fulfillment. … This is dedicated to all members of the LGBTQIAplus community and our allies.”

The package even prompted a response from an actual shell-ebrity — the REAL Ariel,aka Jodi Benson, who voiced the troubled mermaid in the Disney movie. She told AP sportswriter Ben Walker that she loved the story and it made her laugh.

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Queen Pangke Tabora, right, swims with her students during a mermaiding class in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines, May 22, 2022. – AP Photo / Aaron Favila
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