Sea Monkeys

Posted by Remo Giuffré on

 

Instant Pets from an Evil Marketing Genius

Sea-Monkeys have been a popular stocking stuffer for children since their “discovery” in 1957. So, what are they exactly? Despite their name, they're not monkeys. And they don't live in the sea.

Here’s what happens: Within a world defined by a small tank of water, humans get to play Creator. A sachet of “water purifier” is added to the “colony” and 24 hours later the “Instant Life Eggs” are added into the mix. And voilà! Right before one's eyes appear hundreds of squirming Sea-Monkeys!

The evil genius (quite literally evil, as it turns out) behind the craze was “marketing jedi master” Harold von Braunhut who, prior to his Sea-Monkeys gig, had introduced the world to gimmicks such as X-Ray Specs and Invisible Goldfish (consisting of an empty fishbowl, fish food, and a 100% guarantee that the owner would never see the fish). Inspired by the Uncle Milton Ant Farm mania that took the US by storm in the 1950s, von Braunhut, while browsing in a pet store, recognised the potential for brine shrimp, commonly sold as fish food, to be marketed as an instant pet.

Brine shrimp (Artemia) are capable of a curious biological process known as cryptobiosis. They can stop all metabolic processes, drying themselves out and appearing lifeless for several years until their environmental conditions improve. Hence, they would survive being neatly packaged into little sachets and shipped off to children around the world. Although von Braunhut claims to have created his own artificial hybrid of brine shrimp known as Artemia NYOS, this appears, like most of his “inventions”, to be nothing more than a marketing claim.

 So what can Sea-Monkeys do? Not much actually. You can create currents in the water forcing the shrimp to swim upstream as though they are “racing”. You can shine a light on the tank attracting the brine shrimp to congregate.

To promote Sea-Monkeys, von Braunhut bought out ad space in comic books and enlisted the help of illustrator Joe Orlando (the future VP of DC Comics and Associate Publisher of Mad Magazine) to transform his microscopic critters into an anthropomorphic fantasy. Despite accusations of false advertising (the illustrated characters bore no resemblance to the actual Sea-Monkeys), the pets were an instant success.

That is, until The Washington Post revealed that von Braunhut was a Jewish neo-Nazi: funding purchases of firearms for the Klu Klux Klan, regularly attending the Aryan Nations World Congress, and publishing his own anti-Zionist newsletter. Evil genius indeed. Upon this discovery, comic books, advertisers, and the licensee cut ties with von Braunhut, worried that they were inadvertently supporting white supremacy! But, with his gift of the gab, von Braunhut was able to attract another network of supporters and licensees, and so the Sea-Monkey empire lived on.

Sea-Monkeys continue to be popular with kids. The franchise is now held by Big Time Toys, and the brine shrimp sourced from China (and not von Braunhut’s original “farm”). The aquatic critters have travelled to space several times (although under a different brand name: “Aqua Dragons”), been the subject of a 1992 TV Series (The Amazing Live Sea Monkeys starring Howie Mandel), and featured in both a South Park episode AND a Simpsons opening sequence (the ultimate recognition that they’d become a cultural relic).

No matter what new whizbang technology attempts to catch the attention of kids, it seems that humans will never tire of playing the Creator.

______________________

 Wikipedia References: Sea-Monkeys & Harold von Braunhut

Other References:
Jack Hitt: The Battle Over the Sea-Monkey Fortune, New York Times, 15 April 2016

Eugene L. Meyer: Contrasts of a Private Persona, Washington Post, 25 April 1988
Alisa Harvey: What are Sea-Monkeys, Live Science, 4 February 2022
The Dark History of Sea Monkeys, Journey to the Microcosmos, 31 August 2021

Images

1. Sea Monkeys for Sale
2. Brine Shrimp Artemis
3. Instant Life!

4. Harold von Braunhut
5. Inventor of Sea-Monkeys Tied to Aryan Nations. Whoops.
6. Southpark Sea People. Season 6 Episode 7.
7. Source: Simpsons Wiki
8. Sea Monkey Family


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