“Hoover, The Talking Seal”
Based on a true story
During the 1970s, Hoover was almost as famous as Ted Kennedy and he “spoke” with a similar downeast accent. Many Bostonians spent their lunch hours visiting this famous seal at the New England Aquarium. At feeding time, the enormous harbor seal would spin in circles for fresh herring, barking phrases such as "Hello Thea!," "Get Ovah Heah!," "Whaddya doin’?," and "Hello Hoova."
No one knows for sure, but New England legend suggests Hoover's mother was attacked by a whale, and he became orphaned. George Swallow, a lobster man in Cundy's Harbor, Maine, rescued the young pup. George brought Hoover home, where he and his wife, Alice, fed ground-up fish to their new friend. In the beginning, George kept Hoover in his bathtub. After a while, the seal pup was eating like a vacuum cleaner, hence the name, “Hoover” (“Hoova” in George’s thick Maine accent).
When Hoover grew too big for the Swallow’s bathtub, he was moved to a tent in their back yard. During the day, Hoover swam in the brackish pond behind the Swallow’s house. When Hoover wanted company, he would slither across the lawn and thump his flipper on the Swallow’s back door. It was at the Swallow’s house in Cundy’s Harbor where Hoover barked his first words. Hoover began mimicking George’s phrases, pronounced with George’s thick Maine accent.
Remarkably, Hoover’s vocabulary began to grow as he received more and more attention from the Swallows and their neighbors. After four months of caring for Hoover, it became difficult for the Swallows to keep up with Hoover’s huge appetite. The Swallows were forced to bring Hoover to the New England Aquarium in Boston, where the rapidly growing seal could receive better care.
At first, no one at the aquarium could believe Hoover could speak. But when Hoover became comfortable, he amazed his visitors by shouting strange sounds at feeding time.
The aquarium even employed a scientist to study Hoover’s strange speech. At first, the scientists disagreed about whether Hoover had the ability to speak. It was not until they interviewed George Swallow and heard his heavy Maine accent that they realized Hoover’s amazing ability.
Soon, the people of Boston welcomed Hoover as their own adopted son. Workers in Boston’s financial district would spend their lunch hours mystified by Hoover's strange utterances. Hoover was featured in The New Yorker and Reader's Digest, as well as on ABC's “Good Morning America” and on National Public Radio.
For years, Hoover spoke to children of all ages and happily occupied center stage at the aquarium, reminding visitors about the magnificence and intelligence of sea animals.
When Hoover died in 1985, he was honored by his own obituary in the Boston Globe. Hoover left behind many offspring. In fact, at least one of Hoover’s grandchildren, “Chacoda,” has followed in his footsteps by mimicking the sound of human speech.
Hear Hoover's actual voice right here