Seal meaning and symbolism include care, protection, curiosity, efficiency, opportunity, psychic abilities, and other special qualities.
There are 33 species of seals around the world, and they can be found in every ocean, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, as well as places like the Mediterranean, Black, and Caspian Seas. So, many people around the world are familiar with these adorable, doe-eyed marine mammals. As a result, many cultures have myths and folklore about seals and they have important symbolic meanings to many people.
In this post, we’ll explore all aspects of seal symbolism and meanings, including seal spiritual meaning and the seal spirit animal, plus seal mythology and folklore.
Table of Contents
- What does a seal symbolize?
- Seal Mythology and Folklore
- Native American Sea Lion Meanings
- Seals in Intuit Culture
- Australian Aboriginal Sea Lion Meanings
- The Seal in Greek Mythology
- The Seal in Celtic Mythology
- Norse Sea Lion Mythology
- Seal Spiritual Meanings
- Seal Spirit Animal
- Seal Power Animal
- Seal Totem Animal
- Seal Dream Meaning
- Seal Tattoo Meaning
- How You Can Help Seals
What does a seal symbolize?
As mentioned above, here are some high-level meanings that are associated with seals. We’ll go into more detail on these throughout this post:
- Care and Protection
- Curiosity and Intelligence
- Efficiency and Effectiveness
- Psychic Abilities
- Transformation and Renewal
Seal Meaning: Care and Protection
While seals hunt on their own, they are very social creatures otherwise, living in large groups called colonies. And they form close bonds with their families and community members.
In addition, seal mothers stay very close to their pups when on land, unlike sea lions. (With the only exception being harbor seal mothers, who will leave their pups on shore to go feed offshore.)1
Thus, seal symbolism embodies the importance of care and protection. Indeed, without these all-powerful qualities, the world would fall apart, or at least become a horrible place.
So, if a seal appears in your life or in some way grabs your attention, it can be a sign to exert more care and protection over those you love and that which you hold dear.
Furthermore, our world can be a rough place sometimes. Thus, the seal reminds us that you might not know what people are going through or feeling. So, simply extending care towards others and creating a safe space for them, physically and emotionally, will make the world a better place.
Curiosity and Intelligence
Seals (and other pinnipeds, including sea lions and walruses) are among the world’s most intelligent animals, along with ravens, dogs, elephants, gorillas, and whales.2
Thus, seals embody the joy of discovery and learning new things. In fact, there’s a saying that goes, “Only boring people get bored.” Or, a more positive quote, by Freya Stark is, “Curiosity is the one thing invincible in nature.”
On a personal note, I know just how curious seals are because I have a dog who loves the water and loves to swim. Often when I am playing fetch with him in the Pacific Ocean or the bays around where I live, curious harbor seals will pop their heads out of the water to watch us.
Researchers have also found that seals have complex and unique personalities. Just like people, some are more extroverted while others are more shy at first.3 Like dogs, the differences in and complexities in seal personalities underscores their intelligence.
So, if a seal appears in your life, it can be a sign to ask yourself, ‘When was the last time I did something totally different and new?’ The seal spirit animal encourages you to keep exploring and discovering new things, and to keep challenging your intellect. This is a key way to truly enjoy life.
Efficiency and Effectiveness
The seal may not look like the most graceful animal while on land. In fact, unlike sea lions, who can walk on their flippers, seals rely on moving their bodies and bouncing for locomotion. However, once they’re in the water, seals are graceful and efficient swimmers. Some species can even dive to 1,000 feet (305 meters) deep, remaining underwater for over one hour.
The reason they can do this is that they have a larger volume of blood and a greater concentration of oxygen in their blood than land animals.4
In addition, seals’ bodies are extremely efficient at removing and recycling water from their food. In other words, they don’t drink sea water.5
For all of these reasons, seal symbolism also includes efficiency. The seal is a powerful reminder that you can thrive and be enormously effective when you are in your element. “In your element” can relate to what you are naturally good at, what you love doing, or your happy place. When you know this about yourself, you can more easily get into flow.
So, a visit from a seal, whether in real life, art, the media, or elsewhere, can be a sign to ask yourself if you feel like you are efficient and effective in what you’re doing. If not, the seal spirit animal might be saying you need to catch a different wave to get into flow.
Sea Lion Symbolism: Opportunity
The seal is an opportunistic feeder as they mainly eat fish but are willing to eat lobsters, octopuses, and even penguins. In addition, if they’re ready to take a break from being in the water, they have no problem hauling out in areas where there might be human civilization, such as public beaches or marinas.
Thus, seal meaning also includes opportunity. The seal doesn’t get into analysis paralysis over decisions. Instead, they take opportunities as they come.
So, if you want something different or more abundant in an area of your life, the seal can be a sign to work on training your mind to look at every situation as a positive opportunity. The more you do it, the more automatic it will become. Then, when a gold nugget of an opportunity comes your way, you won’t hesitate to take advantage of it.
Few people know this fact, but the largest carnivorous animal on Earth is the elephant seal. Weighing in at 4,400 pounds (1,996 kg), a male elephant seal is twice the size of your average polar bear.
In addition, male elephant seals engage in bloody epic battles to establish dominance during mating season. And they have the battle scars to prove it.
They can also stay underwater for longer than any other pinniped (seals, sea lions, or walruses) – for over an hour and a half.6
In short, the elephant seal is a creature of substance. The polar opposite of the fairy-like hummingbird or dragonfly, the elephant seal has gravitas.
So, on a symbolic level, the seal (and notably, the elephant seal) can be a sign to put some weight behind your intentions. Visualizing and daydreaming are essential for creating a wonderful life. But massive action is the engine that will get you there.
Seal Meaning: Spunk
There are not many people who would argue that seals are adorable. Their big round eyes and rotund bodies can easily melt the hardest of hearts.
Yet beyond their cuteness, seals are also curious, playful, and mischievous. In short, they are spunky.
So, if a seal appears in your life, it may be a sign to ask yourself, ‘When was the last time I let my inner child come out to play?’
While we all have to be responsible sometimes, if we don’t have some fun every now and then, what’s the point?
The seal spirit animal says, “Don’t take yourself too seriously. Show a little spunk. You deserve to have some fun and to be happy.”
In addition to being cute, the seal has some other very compelling attributes. To begin, they see very well under water, as well as above water. (Though their eyes work best underwater.)
They also have good hearing. In fact, they can hear high pitched sounds that we cannot.
In addition, the seal is an expert at navigation. They can leave a place, travel long distances, and then return to the same spot with high precision.
Another interesting fact is that the seal’s whispers have highly developed sensors like a cat’s. With their whiskers, the seal can feel vibrations in the water. In fact, even blind seals are able to hunt and feed because of their non-visual sensory skills.7
Because of their level of sensitivity, the seal also symbolizes psychic abilities. In fact, beyond symbolism, there are a number of psychics who believe that seals and other marine mammals are psychic.
So, the seal is a powerful animal totem for those who are already very intuitive or those who want to hone their psychic abilities. We all have this capacity. But like everything, it takes practice. Prayer, meditation, and spending time in nature are all ways to tap into your inner voice and connect with your spirit guides or Higher Power.
Transformation and Renewal
Like other animals who shed, seals molt every year and then regrow a new coat. So, on a symbolic level, the seal represents the idea of renewal, or shedding one’s skin to become a whole new yet.
In addition, the evolution of seals is an extraordinary story of transformation. While all life on Earth originated in the water, some animals eventually evolved to walk on land.
Then, of those species, a few made the choice to return to the water. These include turtles, frogs, and marine mammals, such as otters, manatees, dolphins, whales, and seals.
The ancestor of the modern-day seal returned to the water about 36 million years ago because geologic changes created an abundant food supply in the ocean.8
Because of this remarkable example of evolution, seal meaning also includes transformation.
As a symbol of transformation, the seal is a reminder that you have the power to transform your life in extraordinary ways. No matter how deep you dive, you’ll be able to hold your breath and survive the downtimes, resurface, and emerge more powerful than ever before.
The seal says to envision what you want and how you want your life to be, and start building from there. Personal transformation begins in the mind. Authors and self-improvement gurus like Tony Robbins, Rhonda Byrne, and Vishen Lakhiani, all teach about our extraordinary potential to transform our lives for the better. The seal says – Believe in yourself.
Seal Mythology and Folklore
The seal appears in the myths and folklore of many cultures around the world. Here are some of those stories:
Seal Meaning in Hawaii
In Hawaii, the monk seal is viewed as a highly intelligent and graceful sacred creature. Native Hawaiians associate the monk seal with their creator god Lono.
In Hawaii, the monk seal is also deeply respected because they are seen as the guardian of human souls after a person dies.
According to one Hawaiian legend, there were a pair of lovers who displeased the shark god Kua. He had loved the woman but she spurned his affections. Consumed with jealousy, Kua put a curse on the woman and turned her into a monk seal. He then turned her lover into a butterfly, so that they could not coexist together.
However, feeling pity on them, the great god Kū reunited them in their human forms.9
Native American Sea Lion Meanings
For the Native Americans of coastal North America, the seal represents abundance and prosperity. In particular, the tribes of the northwest coastal areas of the U.S. and Canada paint and sew seals on their potlatch items (which are items used in special ceremonies, for gifts, and other occasions.)
For the Nootka People of Vancouver and the Makah of Washington, seals are also protector spirits who are associated with safety in the ocean and hunting skills.10
The Temagami First Nation, who live on Bear Island in Lake Temagami in northern Ontario, Canada, the seal is said to have magical powers.
The Temagami have a legend about a giant rock called Seal Rock. According to the story, a woman left her baby in a cradle-board on a rock while she went to look for berries and other food. However, when she returned, the baby was gone.
A giant manitu, or magic seal, who lived in a rock had stolen the baby and brought the baby back inside the rock with him.
Enraged, the father of the baby began digging into the rock, forming a hole in it that remains today. However, when the father chiseled further in, he found the baby but he had died and the seal was gone.
Wanting revenge, the father dove into the water and swam to Seal Island. He came to another rock that the manitu had entered. He was so angry, that with his chisel, he split the rock open. However, the magical seal escaped again. But that is why the rock is split to this day.11
Seals in Intuit Culture
For the Inuit People of Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Siberia, the seal is an important source of food, clothing, and other items. Thus, the seal symbolizes life and abundance for the Inuit. In addition, the seal symbolizes innocence.
In addition, the Inuit associate the seal with their sea goddess, Sedna. There are various legends about Sedna. However, a common thread to the stories is that Sedna’s father didn’t want her as a baby, so he threw her into the sea, thinking she would drown. But the sea creatures took them as her own and she became a goddess.
In one version of the story, Sedna was a giant and the daughter of the creator deity, Anguta. Sednra was a wild baby and attacked her parents. So, Anguta took her out to see in his kayak and threw her overboard. When she tried to grab onto the side of the kayak, her father chopped off her fingers and she sank into the underworld. Her giant fingers became the seals, sea lions, and walruses of the sea.12
Needless to say, Sedna became an angry and vengeful goddess. The Inuit believe she must be placated or she will cause havoc for people when they venture into the ocean.13
Australian Aboriginal Sea Lion Meanings
For the Aboriginal People of Australia, the seal is also an important source of food and other items. In addition to cooking with it, they mix the oil from seal blubber with ochre to make paint for their artwork.14
The Aborigines also tell tales of a sea monster called the bunyip, which means devil or evil spirit. The bunyip is a giant, seal-like creature with sharp teeth that lives in the water and comes out to terrorize and eat people.15
The Seal in Greek Mythology
In ancient Greek mythology, the god Proteus, who was referred to as the “wise old man of the sea” was a shepherd for seals. Proteus was the son of Oceanus, the river-ocean god who gave birth to all rivers and seas. And his mother was Tethys, the daughter of Gaia and Uranus. The poet Homer referred to seals as “water children.”16
Seals also appear on ancient Greek coins. They believed that they were both helpers to sea deities, including Poseidon, as well as the protectors of sailors. They also believe that seal skin could protect them from lightning.
The Seal in Celtic Mythology
The Irish and Scots have long told stories about seal-like creatures who come to shore to enchant people. Called selkies, the creatures could shapeshift from seals into beautiful women by removing their fur when they came to shore.
The selkies are said to possess feminine wiles that are so seductive that they have the power to enchant and overwhelm men. In fact, in many selkie tales, the man is so smitten with the selkie in her human form that he tries to convince her to remain on land with him.
In some versions of the tales, the man will use underhanded means to trick her into staying on land, such as stealing her fur so that she can’t transform back into a sea lion and return to the sea. However, the man can never tame the selkie, as her heart eternally belongs to the sea.17
Norse Sea Lion Mythology
In Norse mythology, the seal (or sea lion) appears in a story about an epic battle between the trickster god Loki and Heimdall, who was the watchman for the gods. In the story, Loki sneaks into the goddess Freya’s palace to steal a magical necklace. Heimdall pursues him to save Freya and the necklace.
In what turns about to be an epic battle ripe with shapeshifting, both gods at one point transform into seals. In the end, it is Heimdall who prevails and saves the necklace.18 So, even in ancient Norse mythology, the sea lion was associated with transformation.
Seals are also sometimes associated with kelpies in Nordic stories. Kelpies are shapeshifting water spirits that inhabits lochs and rivers but resemble horses.
Seal Spiritual Meanings
Seals are not directly mentioned in the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, or the Quran. However, in the Book of Exodus 26:13–14, there is a reference to covering a tent with “sea cow hides,” which some say could mean seal skin. However, the reference is up for debate.19
Nevertheless, on a spiritual level, the seal represents some important ideals. Here are some examples:
1. Care and Protection – The seal reminds us of a tenet that many of the world’s religions and spiritual practices espouse, which is compassion and caring for others. The seal embodies that importance of community and prioritizing our relationships with each other.
2. Psychic Abilities – As mentioned earlier, the seal is a very sensitive animal. They remind us to tune into our Higher Power for guidance. We all have the capacity to connect with divine intelligence. It’s only a matter of taking the time out from the hustle and bustle of daily life to meditate, pray, or tune in.
3. Transformation – The seal represents the power of transformation on our spiritual journey. They remind us that we are all going through a spiritual transformation just as we are in the physical world. Ultimately, we are all on the path to spiritual enlightenment.
Seal Spirit Animal
When the seal is your spirit animal, you are likely a person who has a fun and curious nature. In addition, like jellyfish people, seal people know how to go with the flow. You are also a naturally nurturing person who values your close ties with friends, family, and community.
In addition, when the seal is your spirit animal, you are a person who has the potential to transform your life. Yet you make this transformation look fluid and effortless.
You are also likely the type of person who, when faced with challenges, can figure out how to take a deep breath and swim a little harder until you catch the next wave.
In short, the seal spirit animal is a wonderful guide to have on your side.
If you’re curious about other animals who might be your spirit guides, you can take UniGuide’s spirit animal test in my overview post about spirit animals.
Seal Power Animal
As the name implies, a power animal can empower you with their most dynamic traits.
So, when you meditate on the seal power animal, you can tap into their most dynamic traits and use them as your own. For example, you can meditate on the seal power animal in situations where you:
- Want to strengthen your personal relationships and build community.
- Want to explore some new ideas and perspectives.
- Need to have more fun in your life.
- Are in a phase where you are focused on personal growth and transformation.
Seal Totem Animal
An animal totem embodies the protective powers of the animal it represents. Thus, the seal totem animal serves as a helpful symbol for learning new things and expanding your horizons because of your curious nature.
In addition, the seal totem is a positive symbol for relationships and other areas of your life that you want to nurture and protect.
Finally, the seal totem animal is a good luck symbol when you want to transform your life and adapt to changes with ease.
Seal Dream Meaning
If a seal enters your dreams and you wonder what the dream meant, consider the emotions you felt in the dream. Dreams are personal to each dreamer, so a seal dream for one person may be interpreted very differently from one that another person has.
However, delving into the emotions you felt in your dream in context to how you view seals in general can provide better insights into what your subconscious is trying to tell you. One thing we all have in common is that our subconscious emotions don’t lie to us.
If you are still wondering what your seal dream may mean, here are some additional ideas:
- Dreaming about a group of seals can mean that you need to strengthen ties with the people in your life who love you and have your best interests at heart.
- As the seal is a symbol of nurturing, your dream can be telling you that you need to nurture those relationships.
- A dream that has a lasting or powerful effect on you could be a connection with a spirit entity. You may have connected with the angel of a loved one who has passed. They may have loved seals or the ocean or they may have been a particularly caring, nurturing, or spunky person when they lived.
- In addition, a number of psychics say that, like wolves, marine mammals have psychic abilities. Thus, dreaming about a seal or colony of seals could mean that you had a soul connection with one or more of these living animals on the astral plane.
- On that level, dreaming about a seal in distress could mean you are being called upon to do work in seal protection or conservation because you have a sensitivity to these animals.
Hopefully understanding more about seal symbolism, meanings, and mythology has brought added insights into what your dream is telling you.
Seal Tattoo Meaning
A seal tattoo can show the world that you are a playful and spunky person who knows how to enjoy life and go with the flow. It can also mean that you are curious by nature and open-minded about new opportunities coming your way.
The seal is also a wonderful symbol of joy and transformation. So, your seal tattoo can show the world that you are a person who is going through a process of personal growth and transformation all the while with a smile on your face and a sense of wonder.
How You Can Help Seals
While some seal and sea lion populations are doing well, certain species are threatened or at risk of extinction. Threats that pinnipeds face include being caught as by-catch by industrial fishing, disease, and degradation of their natural habitats. If you care about seals and sea lions, please do what you can to help them. Here are some organizations that are working on pinniped protection and conservation: