03/07/2012 16:38 BST | Updated 03/07/2012 16:39 BST

Mermaids: US Government Forced To Deny Existence Of 'Aquatic Humanoids' After Realistic Documentary

A US government agency has been forced to deny the existence of mermaids following an all-too-realistic TV programme on the legendary beings.

"No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found", the National Ocean Service said, after some viewers mistook the programme for a documentary.

Following the broadcast Mermaids: The Body Found, on the Discovery Channel's Animal Planet network, at least two people wrote in to ask if mermaids were real, the NOS told the BBC.

Mermaids have head and torso of a girl or woman, and the tail of a fish

The service, which is part of the U.S. Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, released a statement on its website last week documenting the long history of mermaids, but insisted there was "no evidence" for believing they exist.

Curiously the department refused to rule out their existence outright, instead plumping for the cautious wording: "no evidence exists."

The memorandum even stated "the belief in mermaids may have arisen at the very dawn of our species."

It went on to note: "Magical female figures first appear in cave paintings in the late Paleolithic (Stone Age) period some 30,000 years ago, when modern humans gained dominion over the land and, presumably, began to sail the seas."

The documentary was described in a New York Times review as produced "in the same vein as “The Blair Witch Project" and finished with a rather ominous disclaimer: "Keep a wary eye out at the beach this summer. Because they’re out there, and all that sonar testing over the years has probably made them pretty cranky."