Located in the middle of the sea between Iceland and Norway, residents of the Faroe Islands have a deep history with the surrounding waters…and seals. Over the centuries, legends have grown as to why fishermen have trouble at sea, or why violent storms pass through the area. One proposed reason? The seals that inhabit the islands may be “selkies”—seals that can shed their skin at night to become fully human.
Legend has it that every year on Twelfth Night selkies arise out of the waters and shed their skin, dancing in their human forms on the beachfront. One year a young fisherman, seeing the beauty of a selkie, stole her shed seal skin, forcing her to remain as a human with him. Keeping her skin locked away in a secret box for years, the man and selkie woman lived for many years on the island of Kalsoy.
However, one day, the man forgot to take the key with him on a fishing journey and returned home to find the box opened, the skin gone, and a message from the selkie woman that she had gone back to the sea to return to her seal family. Angry, the fisherman and his friends went hunting for seals. They ignored the selkie woman’s warning not to harm her family, and ended up destroying everything in their path. In revenge, the selkie woman cursed the fishermen of Kalsoy.
In 2014, artist Hans Pauli Olson created, “Kópakonan,” a large statue of the selkie woman in the town of Mikladalur. Surrounded by the roaring coast and jagged cliffs, the statue captures the moment the woman is slowly shedding off her seal-skin, forever tied to the endlessly green island. While the celebrated legend is a tragic story, the island of Kalsoy today is a quiet peaceful place—as long as visitors don’t try to take any selkie skins.
Written by: Seamus McMahon