Take the Plunge
The International Mermaid Museum is the perfect place to dive into all things mermaid. Founded by Kim and Blain Roberts, this non-profit museum is dedicated to teaching ocean ecology from seashore to sea floor, immersing visitors in mermaid mythology, and uniting world oceanic cultures.
Kim was one of the first female charter boat captains on the West Coast, and she put herself through architecture school at Washington State University by fishing every summer. She and Blain used to own and operate Lahaina Divers on Maui. Kim says, “When we decided to create our museum, we used Blain’s underwater images to help tell the stories.”
To launch the museum, Kim asked ten women in her community to serve on the board, along with her daughter Carrie, who is a scuba diver. Next, they contacted friends in the diving and fishing industries to ask for artifacts to populate the museum. “We’re at that age where we have cool stuff that our kids don’t want,” Kim laughs.
Kim enlisted some more friends to help create the displays. Kim adds, “They later told me that when they walked into the building I designed and saw our pile of ‘stuff,’ they thought it looked like a ‘bad garage sale.’” However, creativity and ingenuity prevailed, and she organized the collection to around 40 stories of mermaid mythology and ocean ecology.
“Our luck has been incredible,” says Kim. “Every time we needed something else, we would hear a knock on the front door and there’d be someone wanting to donate just what we needed, without us even asking.”
They sought grants the first year and had to estimate how many visitors she might see. “Based on what the other local museums told me, I boldly said we anticipated 40 visitors a day,” Kim says. “In our first eight months we welcomed 82,000 visitors, or about 400 a day.”
Located near the Washington Coast on the grounds of Westport Winery Garden Resort, where Kim and Carrie are co-owners, the museum was designed for all types of visitors. “Though many of the mermaid myths are rather dark, we make the displays suitable for all ages,” Kim says. “The children are the ones who drag their families into the museum, but the adults are the ones who drink in the content.”
The displays span from an exhibit about Disney’s Ariel and her friend Flounder to a display about the Alaskan Inuit mermaid Sedna and trawl fishing. There are also a series of “mersonas” which populate the displays, designed to make visitors feel like they’re experiencing an underwater world. Kim explains, “Not everyone has the opportunity to scuba dive. So this is our effort to bring that thrilling feeling of exploration and adventure to them.”
In the past year they built a “sunken ship” inside the exhibition hall to help evoke the experience of diving. In the entryway, the museum has a mermaid throne with loaner tails for anyone to borrow and take photographs. There is also a big screen with underwater video of Hannah Fraser, one of the world’s most popular professional mermaids. A giant sluice box offers visitors the opportunity to mine for gemstones, fossils, and seashells. And, the museum’s gift shop is filled with all things sea-related.
The International Mermaid Museum has a wine and spirit tasting bar, and guests over 21 can explore the museum with a glass of wine or a cocktail. The Westport Winery Garden Resort features display gardens, with outdoor sculptures by local artists, including a 13-foot-tall mermaid named Gray Sea, created from recycled metal by Yoseph Adams.
If you’re interested in a deep dive, the museum is located halfway between Westport and Aberdeen on the Washington Coast, just nine miles from the Pacific Ocean and the quaint coastal fishing community of Westport. Westport has more shops, lodging, and camping and is home to great beachcombing, surfing, fishing, and whale watching.
Learn more at mermaidmuseum.org
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine September/October 2022 issue.