The most-watched telecast in Animal Planet's history is about mermaids.

Sunday's "documentary" Mermaids: The New Evidence delivered 3.6 million viewers, shattering the network's rating record. Yup, even bigger than the Puppy Bowl. The program is not only a hoax but a sequel to a hoax—to last year's rather effortlessly debunked Mermaids: The Body Found, which fooled more viewers than you'd think.

The straight-faced Mermaids specials (trailer below) basically play like Alien Autopsy for a new generation, though at least the infamous Fox special had "Fact or Fiction?" as a nudge-nudge subtitle. Both Animal Planet specials purportedly show video of mermaids in the Greenland Sea, with actors playing scientists (credits). The specials also darkly suggest there's a government cover-up of mermaid evidence, complete with a spin-off site that says it's been seized by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security.

Animal Planet's press release touting the new ratings continued the game, referring to the special's "exclusive interview with Dr. Paul Robertson, former NOAA scientist." There was a disclaimer that the program is science fiction, but you have to look for it in the show's closing credits.

So let's take a moment to appreciate this: Animal Planet is 17 years old. The channel is dedicated to series and specials about the natural world. And the most-watched program in its history is about a non-existent creature—not even a remotely believable non-existent creature! There are about 2 million cataloged species on the planet, and what sets the record? Mermaids. Then again, maybe it's not so surprising—the network's previous all-time record holder was Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real.

As the real National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration put it after the first special was released last year: "No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found."

"The phenomenon of Mermaids has truly been a watershed—and a watercooler—moment for Animal Planet," said Animal Planet president Marjorie Kaplan, presumably with some degree of reluctance. "These extraordinary television specials have electrified, challenged, and entertained television audiences and online fans alike."

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