Seal sunbathing near Plockton in Scotland
Selkies are seals that can shed their skin to become humans. The legend apparently originated on the Orkney and Shetland Islands, where selch or selk(ie) is the Scots word for seal (from Old English seolh).
Selkies are able to become human by taking off their seal skins, and can return to seal form by putting it back on. Stories concerning selkies are generally romantic tragedies. Sometimes the human will not know that their lover is a selkie, and wakes to find them gone. Other times the human will hide the selkie’s skin, thus preventing them from returning to seal form. A selkie can only make contact with one particular human for a short amount of time before they must return to the sea. Examples of such stories are the ballad, The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry, the movie The Secret of Roan Inish and Ondine.