The Merlion (simplified Chinese: 鱼尾狮; pinyin: Yúwěishī; Malay: Harimau-Laut; Tamil: கடல்சிங்கம்) is an imaginary creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish. Its name combines “mer” meaning the sea and “lion“. The fish body comes from Singapore‘s ancient name back when it was a fishing village — Temasek — meaning “sea town” in Javanese. The lion head represents Singapore’s original name — Singapura — meaning “lion city” or “kota singa” in Sanskrit and Malay.
The symbol was designed by Mr Fraser Brunner, a member of the Souvenir Committee and curator of the Van Kleef Aquarium, for the logo of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in use from 26 March 1964 to 1997. The Merlion continues to be its trademark symbol since 20 July 1966. Although the STB changed their logo in 1997, the STB Act continues to protect the Merlion symbol. Approval must be received from STB before it can be used. The Merlion appears frequently in STB-approved souvenirs.
These five Merlions in Singapore are the only ones recognised by the STB::
- The original statue at Merlion Park
- The two-metre tall cub statue standing behind the original statue
- The 37-metre tall gigantic replica — with Mouth Gallery Viewing Deck on the ninth storey, another viewing gallery on its head and The Merlion Shop — at Sentosa Island
- The three-metre tall glazed polymarble statue at Tourism Court (near Grange Road) completed in 1995
- The three-metre tall polymarble statue placed on Mount Faber‘s Faber Point
On 15 September 1972, then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew officiated the installation ceremony of the Merlion statue. The original Merlion statue used to stand at the mouth of the Singapore River, at the tip of the current The Fullerton Waterboat House Garden with Anderson Bridge as its background.
It was conceptualised by the vice-chancellor of the University of Singapore (now known as National University of Singapore) then, Kwan Sai Kheong. Made from November 1971 to August 1972 by the late Singapore craftsman, Mr Lim Nang Seng, it measures 8.6 metres high and weighs 40 tonnes. Its body is made of cement, skin from porcelain plates and eyes from small red teacups. The project cost about S$165,000.
The statue spouts water out of its mouth into the river in a smooth arc until its water pump malfunction in 1998.
Relocation of original statue
The completion of the Esplanade Bridge, in 1997, blocked the views of the Merlion from the Marina Bay waterfront. By then, the original Merlion location was also no longer the entrance of Singapore River. So, in 2002, the statue and its cub were relocated 120 metres to the current Merlion Park that fronts Marina Bay where it stands on a newly-reclaimed promontory in front of The Fullerton Hotel.
Another solution considered – to raise the Merlion on a pedestal at its original location – was deemed unsuitable as the view would still be blocked by the bridge. Other possible relocation sites considered included Nicoll Highway Extension Bridge, Esplanade Park, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, a promontory at Marina Centre (near where Singapore Flyer is located now), a promontory site at Bayfront (near the tip of Marina Bay Sands integrated resort) and Kim Seng Park. However, all were either unsuitable or not technically feasible.
The unprecedented feat of relocation began on 23 April 2002 and finished on April 25. A carefully-engineered journey required one barge, two DEMAG AC1600S cranes of 500 tonnes lifting capacity, plus a team of 20 engineers and workers on site. The entire statue was hoisted onto the barge, which then sailed to the new installation site at the current Merlion Park, near the mouth of Singapore River. During the voyage, the statue had to be hoisted from the barge, over the Esplanade Bridge and then back onto the barge, as it was too tall to pass underneath.
Exactly 30 years after it was officially launched, then-Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew returned on 15 September 2002 to ceremonially welcome the Merlion again — this time in its new home. A viewing deck now stretches over the Singapore River, allowing visitors to pose for a photograph with a front or side view of the Merlion, including a new city skyline backdrop in the picture. The sculpture was aligned to face East, a direction advised to be most auspicious. Relocated, the statue once more spouted water from its mouth, having stopped in its old location since 1998 due to a water pump malfunction. The Merlion now has a new two-unit water pump system with units working alternately, so a partner is always on standby. The relocation and new site (four times larger than the original) cost S$7.5 million.
Maintenance of original statue
From 5 June till 10 July 2006, the Merlion at Merlion Park underwent maintenance. The last one was right after its relocation. Dirt and stains were removed using high-pressure water streams, and various wear and tear of the statue was mended.
During that period, visitors were greeted with illustrated hoardings and canvases covering the safety nets and scaffolding. The illustrations were designed by Miel, an award-winning senior artist at The Straits Times. The illustration on the canvases made them look like shower curtains, with the Merlion sticking its head out with the shadow of its tail behind the curtain. The illustration on the hoardings showed the Merlion scrubbing himself with a brush and showering using a Merlion shower head spouting water. The Merlion said “EXCUSE ME WHILE I TAKE A SHOWER…” in a speech bubble.
The Merlion on Sentosa was designed and sculpted by an Australian Artist called James Martin. It is made of Glass Reinforced Cement (GRC) over a steel armature that is attached to the central lift core.
Other Merlion statues
Due to the influence of overseas Singaporeans, Singapore investors and friends of the country, variations of the Merlion statue can be found in Japan and China.
Merlion damage by lightning
On Saturday, February 28, 2009 at about 4.30 pm the Merlion in the Merlion Park was struck by lightning. A breaking news from 938LIVE local radio showed an image with fragments from the Merlion’s head on the ground. Examination of the damage was done quickly with wooden scaffolding set up on Sunday, March 1, 2009 for workers to take a closer look at the hole. The incident happened as a result of the lack of lightning protection on the Merlion itself. 
A wide variety of Merlion souvenirs are sold at tourist areas in Singapore. Some form of Merlion souvenirs include:
- Display model, with smaller ones doubling up as paperweights
- Soft toys
- Mini soft toy keychains or mobile phone charms
- Refrigerator magnets
- Picture frames
The Merlion in art and popular culture
- Edwin Thumboo cemented the iconic status of the Merlion as a personification of Singapore with his poem Ulysses by the Merlion in 1979. Due to Thumboo’s status as Singapore’s unofficial poet laureate and the nationalistic mythmaking qualities of his poetry, future generations of Singaporean poets have struggled with the symbol of the Merlion, frequently taking an ironical, critical, or even hostile stand – and pointing out its artificiality and the refusal of ordinary Singaporeans to accept a tourist attraction as their national icon. The poem “attracted considerable attention among subsequent poets, who have all felt obliged to write their own Merlion (or anti-Merlion) poems, illustrating their anxiety of influence, as well as the continuing local fascination with the dialectic between a public and a private role for poets, which Thumboo (as Yeats before him, in the Irish context) has wanted to sustain as a fruitful rather than a tense relation between the personal and the public.” Among the poems of this nature are “Merlign” by Alvin Pang and “Love Song for a Merlion” by Vernon Chan.
- The Merlion was featured – or, depending on point of view, not featured – during the 2005 Venice Biennale in the controversial work “Mike” by artist Lim Tzay Chuen. He had proposed taking the sculpture in the Merlion Park to the Singapore Pavilion at the exhibition, but was refused by the authorities.
- The Merlion has appeared in a number of films and television series, becoming a visual cliché representing Singapore.
- It appeared in the anime Cowboy Bebop, where its appearance in an ancient home movie offered amnesiac bounty hunter Faye Valentine a clue to her true origins.
- There is a famous restaurant in Gainesville, Florida named for the Merlion, which serves vegetarian food from Singapore. Similarly, the critically acclaimed restaurant “the Singapore Merlion” in Coolangatta, Queensland, (known colloquially by residents as “John’s”) is named after the Merlion.
- The Merlion featured heavily in Hajime Satō’s (佐藤 肇, Satō Hajime) reimagining of Shinjuku in the 2005 Anime Karas.
- The Merlion can also be seen in the popular video game Animal Crossing for the Nintendo GameCube as a decoration.
- The Merlion is seen in special episode 1 of Sunshine Sketch.
- A small Merlion, complete with a plaque giving information about the original statues, forms part of the decoration in the “Mystic East” area of British theme park Chessington World of Adventures.
- The Merlion was featured in an episode of the South Park sitcom. In the episode, titled ‘The Democracy’, it shows the four main characters having a Fourth of July party at Cartman’s house. Cartman’s room is wallpapered with Merlion images.