Northern European seal folklore.

Long before the era of frogmen, coast-dwellers who caught glimpses of or even managed to harpoon or shoot the seal were struck with some rough physical resemblances between that elusive sea-creature and man. The seal's flippers seem, especially in swimming, to resemble rudimentary human hands; the movement of a seal on ice or land resembles the crawling of a baby or a disabled adult. The plaintive-sounding barking of the seal would to primitive man hardly seem to lack overtones of human emotion, and the gatherings of the animals around holes in the ice would not look altogether unlike human assemblies. Both the appearance and the elusiveness of the seal tends to agree with some popular conceptions of the qualities of ghosts. It is no wonder, then, that the animal has stirred popular imagination in the parts of the world where it is found as much as or more than any other sea-creature, with the likely exception of the giant of the sea, the mighty whale. I shall in this article limit myself to the more significant and interesting traditions recorded in Europe.
http://www.jstor.org/stable/1258021