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Whenever people discuss mammalian-type merfolk, I usually see them be modeled after cetaceans like dolphins and whales. This is perfectly serviceable, but there is one piece of anatomy that I cannot figure out how to apply to a mermaid: the Blowhole.

As to why a mermaid would have a blowhole, the reasons I can think of mostly revolve around sleeping and energy conservation. Whales sleep in short naps close to the surface of the water, so they can take breaths if they need to. As for energy conservation, I think it would take more energy to tread water and keep a mermaid's whole head out of water than to just pop up and use the blowhole.

Hence my question. If a cetacean-based mermaid had a blowhole, where could it go?

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    $\begingroup$ In her back. Like a dolphin. Did you know that dolphins actually ... uhh, nah, that's off topic. I'l leave it at that. $\endgroup$ – Grimm The Opiner Oct 9 '17 at 11:42
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    $\begingroup$ @GrimmTheOpiner - the blowhole of a dolphin is not situated in their backs. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Oct 9 '17 at 12:16
  • $\begingroup$ AliceD's point might be best understood in the sense that a whale's trachea runs under its brain just like ours, but then up in front, and not behind it as one might at first guess. $\endgroup$ – Chris Stratton Oct 9 '17 at 23:09
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    $\begingroup$ We already have blowholes right? What's wrong with that one? $\endgroup$ – Möoz Oct 10 '17 at 4:34
  • $\begingroup$ if the top half is human then the 2 nostrils are the blowholes except they have fingers and willpower instead of muscular flaps... $\endgroup$ – user6760 Oct 10 '17 at 7:40
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Why would a mermaid have a blowhole? A blowhole is a cetacean's nose, where as mermaids are generally depicted as having human-like facial features including a nose. Remember that you don't need to tread water in an upright position to breathe, you could also breathe on your back. If mermaids have any different sort of respiratory apparatus to humans, then it's generally depicted as gills.

If your mermaid had both though, then the back would probably be the sensible point to maintain a relatively human-like anatomy - the back of the head would also work, but create issues with where the connection would be vs the bits that already live in that part of the anatomy (brain and spinal cord).

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    $\begingroup$ I hadn't thought about floating on the back to make breathing easier, but that is a good workaround. Kinda like a sea otter. $\endgroup$ – Lot-Of-Malarkey Oct 8 '17 at 21:41
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    $\begingroup$ Floating on the back to breathe while sleeping has lots of benefits as regards mermaids. I like the idea of a sailor happening upon a sea of floating, sleeping mermaids. Of the siren variety. "shhhh! don't wake them up!" $\endgroup$ – Willk Oct 8 '17 at 21:54
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    $\begingroup$ Or a baby mermaid snuggling on it’s mother’s chest before it can swim on it’s own. Or mermaids balancing rocks on their bellies to break open oysters... wait.. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Oct 9 '17 at 6:44
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I concur with Matt Bowyer here;

A blowhole is the hole at the top of a Cetacean's head used for breathing (Fig. 1). It is a homologous structure to the nostril in other mammals. When Cetaceans reach the water surface to breathe, they will expel air first to remove any water from blowhole before breathing in. Air sacs just below the blowhole can be used by whales for vocalization and/or echolocation.

Instead, mermaids are generally depicted to have fishy/cetacean's structures from the waist down, excluding hence the nostrils altogether (Fig. 2).

blowhole
Fig. 1. Dolphin's blowhole. source: ThingLink

ugly mermaid Fig. 2. Mermaid and.... merman? source: Wikimedia commons

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    $\begingroup$ Your mermaid picture actually depicts the creature with a cetacean's tail, not a fish tail. Fish tails swing left-right, cetacean tails swing up-down. $\endgroup$ – dotancohen Oct 9 '17 at 18:19
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    $\begingroup$ @dotancohen - yes, cetacean tails are actually legs - they are terrestrial mammals that went back to the oceans. Fish (including sharks) have tails that swing laterally, just like lizards. Lizards are terrestrial fishes. Watch them run! Just like a fish on the dry. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Oct 9 '17 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ OK, I think this image is still aesthetically really neat and not copyrighted as the author is unknown (shaky motivation, but the wiki commons mermaids I found were, well, no so good-looking :-) $\endgroup$ – AliceD Oct 9 '17 at 18:34
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    $\begingroup$ @AliceD author unknown is not the same as not copyrighted. The only time a work could be considered 'not copyrighted' is when it enters the public domain (either by copyright expiring or the author explicitly releasing it.) Author unknown is the perfect case for not using it because you cannot secure permission to use it. If this is a photo of a painting, copyright could be held by the photographer, or it could be held by the owner of the physical painting. Bottom line, if you can't determine who holds the copyright to something, better to err on the side of caution. $\endgroup$ – Mr.Mindor Oct 9 '17 at 20:42
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    $\begingroup$ sorry :) I prefer the other image too. $\endgroup$ – Mr.Mindor Oct 9 '17 at 20:53
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Previous answers have given the back of the head or upper back as a logical location. In The Cabin In The Woods, one character is killed and eaten by a merman (in this clip), which snorts blood out of the blowhole in its upper back.

I realise this isn't much of a citation, being fictional, but it does show a fairly realistic depiction of a merman.

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One of the things to consider is how your merpeople were created. Decide on your creation-story, and that will give you your permissible range of variation.

For example; did they evolve from mammals? Then probably no scales, no gills... and probably no blowhole anywhere that nostrils could not reasonably migrate to from the front of the face. Did they evolve from apes? Then no cetacean-style tail, they'd have to thrust with hind-legs as we do, and would probably become bipedal.

So, blowholes are unlikely to get much behind the eyes, as in order to do so, they'd have to migrate outwards, before upwards. They are definitely not likely to split up, migrate entirely around the brain, and start coming out the back of the neck, for example.

But there's a way that could happen: a mermaid's smile could grow wider, and she could breathe out of the sides of her smile... even if the smile eventually went to the back of the neck, with floppy lip-jowls drooping down and covering it. Soft-tissue changes are much easier than bone, after all.

If, on the other hand, they were a magical amalgam of fish and woman, then they would operate however the creating wizard chose.

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An important consideration is how long you expect your mermaids to remain submerged — orcas, with much larger lungs than humans, can only hold their breath for 15 minutes or so. If you’re imagining mermaids staying underwater for longer than an hour, but have a smaller lung capacity than sperm whales (which can hold their breaths for up to two hours), you’ll need some other way for them to keep oxygenated: gills, say, or underwater air sacs. If you’re imagining them living at or near the surface like dolphins, or transitioning from land to water like walruses or penguins, then breathing through the mouth will probably be just fine.

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