Making a splash
Photo by Mic Smith
Home turf: Pawleys Island
Claim to fame: Mermaid Clodagh at Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach
Day job: Kelahan-Pierson is a senior marine science major at Coastal Carolina University, where she was crowned Miss Coastal in 2014. She is also involved with sea turtle rescue organizations.
About her mermaid name: “It’s a play on my Irish heritage. It’s the name of a river in Ireland. We stuck with the body-of-water theme.”
The kids inch closer to the aquarium glass, clutching camera phones and lollipops. In the luminescence of the tank, they glance right past the Southern stingrays and bonnethead sharks, searching excitedly for the first sign of a purple-spangled mermaid tail.
They scream and cheer as Mermaid Clodagh comes finning and twisting downward, blowing bubbly kisses and playing underwater patty-cake for a full eight seconds before going back up for air. They love it. They want more. And so she dives back down again. And again.
“I think kids like mermaids because it allows for an extra sense of wonder,” says Shannon Kelahan Pierson, who plays Mermaid Clodagh at Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach. “To little kids, there’s every possibility in the world that mermaids exist.”
Originally from Phoenix, she grew up vacationing on Pawley’s Island, then moved to the Grand Strand to study marine science at Coastal Carolina University. “Coastal has one of the best programs in the country, and even though I was moving 2,190 miles away, I was going somewhere that my heart felt was home,” she says.
Like many of the other Ripley’s mermaids, Kelahan-Pierson has always had a passion for water—whether it’s working as a lifeguard or as a swim instructor, or earning open-water scuba certification. Such aquatic skills are necessary when you wear a tail that weighs 35 pounds and perform four shows a day during tourist season.
“A lot of people come here on vacation and want something new, they want something different, and I certainly think we provide that,” she says. “We all really love what we do. I haven’t ever come to work and had a grumpy mermaid day.”