Picture from The Boston Globe
It's not just an urban legend—there really was a talking seal at the New England Aquarium. Hoover, an Atlantic harbor seal, was as well known in Boston as Ted Kennedy, and he spoke with a similar accent! Among the phrases Hoover produced while living at the Aquarium include "hello there," "how are ya," "get outta here," "get down," "Hoover," and a number of variations of each, accompanied by a signature guttural laugh. Hoover was the first non-human mammal ever to produce such sounds. If you're still doubtful of the story's accuracy, you can listen to a digitized audio recording of Hoover's abilities.
George and Alice Swallow found a baby seal in Maine in 1971 and, realizing that he was an orphan, decided to take care of him. The Swallows brought him home, put him in a bathtub and tried to feed their little friend with ground mackerel. On the first day, he didn't want fish, but soon he started eating like a vacuum cleaner. That is why they called him Hoover.
Hoover was soon too big for the bathtub and was moved to a pond behind the house. It was there that, according to Mr. Swallow, he started to imitate the way people talked. When they brought Hoover to the Aquarium, he was 4 months old and already eating more fish than the Swallows could afford. George told Aquarium staff that he thought that the seal could talk, but at that time, no one at the Aquarium believed it. After a few years however, Hoover's talking became more clear, and scientists started researching the seal's vocalizing abilities. The origin of his heavy Bostonian accent was a mystery until the researchers met the Swallows. Hoover talked just like them!
Hoover soon became famous. He still holds the record as the world's most famous seal, having been featured in Reader's Digest, on ABC's Good Morning America, The New Yorker, and on National Public Radio, just to name a few.
Hoover died of old age in 1985 and left several offspring, including Cinder, Beanie, Joey, Spark, Amelia and Trumpet. Some his descendants are still in the Aquarium's Harbor Seals Exhibit, including his grandson, Chacoda. For the record, Hoover received his own obituary in the Boston Globe.