Shape Shifting Seals: The Selkie
An unusual were-animal, the Selkie (or sometimes spelled Selchie, or Silkie), is a seal that can shapeshift into the form of a human. Selkies are said to be found in the Shetland or Orkney Islands in Scotland.
The theories of how selkies came into existence are still in debate. One theory says that the transformations of the selkie occur because they are humans that have been cursed for doing something terrible, and are thus doomed to spend their lives as seals (interestingly, this is similar to a few of the older outdated werewolf folklore which cite werewolves as “cursed” in their existence). Another theory of selkie existence says that they are actually the souls of humans who have drowned.
Another interesting similarity between the selkie and werewolves is in the fact that supposedly – according to legend – the timing of the physical transformations cannot happen whenever the creature would like. Many legends say that the selkie transform only at certain time periods – many legends say it can only happen once a year, other legends say the transformations can occur only every ninth night. This is similar to traditional werewolf legends which hold that werewolves can only transform at certain times as well (full moon). This is where the similarities between werewolf and selkie transformations end however, as the rest of the transformation process is very different….once the timing is right, it is said that in order for the selkie transformation to occur, the selkie must actually take off their skin. They therefore hide it in a safe place while they are on land. When they are ready for their transformation back into their seal form, they must find their skin and put it back on. Stealing a selkie’s skin can therefore prevent him or her from transforming and returning to the ocean.
When a selkie transforms, it is said they transform into a very handsome man or extremely beautiful woman. Because of their beauty they often steal the hearts of a human, and many tales tell of men who find and hid the seal skins so as to prevent them from returning to their home.