The internet is filled with charming videos of cats and dogs that appear to talk. It is always something simple like "no, no, no,no" or "I love you." But what if you heard something like speech from a type of animal that hadn't been tamed by man for thousands of years? Hoover, a rescued orphan harbor seal in Cundy's Harbor, Maine, learned to repeat words spoken by his human father.
It all started back in May of 1971 when Scottie Dunning found a lone harbor seal pup on the shore. Unable to locate the mother, he called his brother-in-law, George Swallow, to help him. The two men searched the shore and eventually found the mother dead. Without her the little pup did not stand a chance. So Swallow took him home and put him in the bathtub there.
As one would expect,within a couple of days this arrangement proved inconvenient when it came to bath time. So Swallow moved the seal outside to a small pond where he set up a special enclosure. The seal became something akin to the family dog. This included riding into town with his head out the car window. (This was in the days long before the idea of raising an orphaned animal to be returned to the wild.)
The poor pup was also not interested in the milk it was offered to eat. A neighbor suggested that the Swallows try grinding up fish and feeding that to the seal. That did it and he sucked it up like he was a Hoover vacuum cleaner -- hence the pup's name. If Swallow was late feeding Hoover, the seal would make his way up to the back steps seeking his breakfast. Sometimes Hoover would hide and not reappear until Swallow yelled "Get out of there and come over here." Then Hoover would come "running" and give Swallow a fishy kiss. Hoover began to mimic his beloved human's phrases.
Sadly, the Swallows realized that they could not continue to raise Hoover as he grew larger and his appetite for fish increased. So they contacted the New England Aquarium in Boston. When Swallow told them that Hoover could talk no one believed him. It was five years before Hoover was comfortable enough in his new surroundings that he began to astonish he keepers by saying "hello there!" and "come over here!" complete with that New England accent. Check out a sample of his speaking ability below:
Hoover fathered six pups, none of whom could talk. He became famous for his unusual talent and was featured in Reader's Digest and The New Yorker, and appeared on Good Morning, America. When he died in July 1985 due to complications with his annual molt his obituary was published in the Boston Globe.
When George Swallow passed away in 1997 a headstone was placed on his grave that featured a carved impression of him with his beloved Hoover. The story of Hoover and the Swallows was made into a children's book, Hoover the Talking Seal, but Derek Kaloust, in 2013.
Images via imgur