I'm thinking specifically for this question of the Selkie, however this could apply to werewolves or another similar creature which spends its time both in human(oid) and animal form.

For those unfamiliar with the Selkie myth:

Selkies are said to live as seals in the sea but shed their skin to become human on land.

Selkie stories say that the selkie lives and spends most of its time in the water, as a seal, but clearly has the intelligence and mind of a human, as in the stories they are capable of human speech, they fall in love, and wed human males and females, and bear human children. As with the werewolf, when they are human, they are just like us, and are capable of whatever thoughts and processes humans are capable of.

Seals are somewhat human in their social arrangements, they live in family groups. They hunt both cooperatively and solitary. While the male-dominated species and the harems are not common practice in human society, they are still in our culture to some extent. They care for their young much as we do, and generally their behavior is similar to ours if a bit more simplistic, since we are all mammals and some basics are the same across the board. (I'm not looking at any specific species of seal for this question, by the way, I don't think it is necessary to, but I can choose one if it helps someone with an answer).

Edit: To clarify, along the same vein, seal society and human society are very clearly different. Would selkies understand that aggression between males is not beneficial to their society as a whole, or that killing the young of other males is morally wrong. An ability to analytically and rationally reason out such issues as food shortages, hunting changes, changes to environment (melting ice floes and global warming) and come up with creative solutions will also put a selkie apart from an ordinary seal pack. Would a selkie accept these parts of themselves and incorporate them, or would they eschew the rational and logical human thought process for a more instinctive, natural one?

So if we were to peer into a Selkie society, to take a closer look at a family group or, for example, bring them on land to form a village or town, would it look like a human village or town? Do they cling to their seal behavior, because it is animal instinct, or do they form a more complex and intelligent society using their human minds?

To narrow down the contents of your answers, I'm not looking for a full description of every aspect of a potential Selkie society. Rather, I'm looking for an answer to the basic question of human or seal?

Bonus points for what the benefit is to their society for choosing one over the other.

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    $\begingroup$ Seems like you can make it whatever you want it to be, since we're talking the potential society of a mythological creature. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Oct 6, 2015 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ I don't understand your question. You go to some lengths to establish the similarities between seal and human communities then ask which one is better. Could you clarify that please? $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Oct 6, 2015 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Green Are you saying that because they are so similar there is no real difference between the two? My intention wasn't really to ask which is "better", but rather which would a half-human choose. I can edit to better clarify that point if it would help? $\endgroup$
    – C. VanHorn
    Oct 6, 2015 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, that makes more sense....which way would a half and half life form go? Which one would they choose? Unfortunately, that feels like an opinion based question to me without some additional clarfication. $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Oct 6, 2015 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ "in the stories they are capable of human speech, they fall in love, and wed human males and females" Generally, no. First, there is no evidence that they speak a human tongue while in seal form. Second, male selkies were "travelling men" and did not fall in love. Third, females were victims, trapped in human form when a man steals and hides her skin. They are left with no choice but to find a protector, and (imagine the coincidence) there is one available. Plus, of course, if (when) she finds her skin, she immediately leaves her human family and returns to the sea without a backwards glance. $\endgroup$ Oct 6, 2015 at 23:57

2 Answers 2


I think you need to figure out what your selkies are. If you want their folklore, you should ask this on mythology. As this is worldbuilding, your selkies are subject to your decisions.

Selkies, to me, always felt like the result of either a fairie magic or the mystery of the sea taking people and turning them into seals. As they breed, some of their offspring can shed this magical skin and visit land. They, however, miss their family and the world they were born in.

You could, however, easily reverse this by making true seals be turned into humans by their own or some third party's magic. Alternatively, you say they are a creation of nature the same as seals and fairies and have just always existed.

If it is the first, they are essentially human but foreigners. They have all of the same instincts, feelings, behaviors as us but are not familiar with our specific customs. If they have no human origin, expect them to be mockups of a human. They may be kind and social but, for instance, they won't understand facial expressions or be able to learn language as a whole anywhere near as well. The first group may be able to talk immediately after leaving the water (if in a different tongue). The latter will be more silent.

Personally, I would suggest you look to folklore and to the most familiar selkie story in modern times: "The Little Mermaid". Yes I know she is a mermaid technically. She is, however, a sea half-humanoid who shed her aquatic skin and came ashore looking human. Despite being from a different world and having difficultly communicating, she falls for and marries a human. This is clearly a "mostly human origin" version of course. This means that she behaves and acts like a playful (hey seals) young human who understands humans emotions and behaviors. She is, however, excited and vexed by what humans consider mundane. This is an easy but fun character to deal with.


Q: Do they cling to their seal behavior, because it is animal instinct, or do they form a more complex and intelligent society using their human minds?

Why wouldn't they form a complex and intelligent society? Because they clearly could if they wanted to. The only reasons I can think is (a) if they tried, they'd be persecuted or (b) for some reason a complex intelligent society is not possible to build in the water.

I don't buy either, so I'll pick 'human' and note that the social benefits of this are all the things humans have gotten from being intelligent, most importantly a massive increase in our numbers.

Procreation and multiplication and filling of all possible niches is the evolutionary goal of all life and if the Selkie don't have the same biological drive you had better have an excellent reason why to avoid big plot holes and suspension of disbelief issues.


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