Living on Earth hears what our listeners have to say. And George Swallow sets the record straight about Hoover the talking seal.
YOUNG: It's Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Young.
YOUNG: Time to catch up on comments from you, our listeners.
YOUNG: Some of you had sharp words about our coverage of the resignation of the White House’s Green Jobs advisor, Van Jones. Among them was Kenneth from Dallas who listens to our podcast. He writes that he usually enjoys our show – but found that report partisan.
He writes, “Your one-sided portrayal of the Van Jones resignation bothered me. I do not think that he should be a part of our government and I am concerned about having un-vetted Czars in high positions.” And ecologist Paul Rogers of Utah State University, thought our report on Sudden Aspen Decline painted too sad a picture. He says though some older trees are dying, in most places, healthy young sprouts are replacing them – that’s contrary to what a forest service pathologist told us. Our interview with the renegade lunch lady, who serves up nutritious school meals, had many of you asking for seconds. Charlotte Muller hears us on WAMC out of Kingston NY.
MULLER: I am a student at the Culinary Institute of America who has decided that I want to make my mission in life to reconnect Americans with their food and a healthier way of looking at food. I would LOVE to be a cook who went into a school and got a farmer to give their food to a school and then helped the cooks in the school learn to prepare it. Sign. Me. Up!
YOUNG: And finally - a listener who says it’s time for some straight talk about that talking seal.
[HOOVER THE SEAL TALKING]
YOUNG: George Swallow heard our story about Hoover the seal on Maine’s Public Broadcasting Network. He liked it, but says we got a couple of things wrong. And he ought to know: Swallow was 17 when his father, also named George Swallow, brought the orphaned pup home.
SWALLOW: My uncle, he’s a lobsterman, lives down from us, oh, about half a mile down the road. He called my father and said that his dog had found a baby seal, and my father was somebody who always took care of stray animals and hurt birds like that. So, my uncle called him and they went down and they found a seal, it was tiny, about a foot long. They looked around, they found its mother had been shot, so my father brought the seal home and they put it in the bathtub. That’s the first time I saw it. I think I came back from school that day, and my mother says come and look at this! And there was a seal in the bathtub.
YOUNG: I’m guessing eventually he got too big for the tub, what then?
SWALLOW: Oh, yeah, we had a pond in the back yard, freshwater pond. And my father would take him down to that and he would go in, swim around, and come out. And we set up a little pup tent, so that he could get out of the sun or stay in there at night and he did that.
YOUNG: A pup tent, how appropriate for a seal pup.
SWALLOW: Yea. [Laughs] And Odin College had a marine biology department and they got a marine biologist to come take a look at the seal, and he said he was okay in the pond, and he just need probably some vitamin supplements and some salt tablets, that they gave my father.
YOUNG: Now, Hoover’s famous for being the talking seal. Did Hoover talk to you, did you hear Hoover talking back then?
SWALLOW: No, I never heard Hoover talk back then. My father thought he heard the seal sort of say something that almost sounded like speech, but he didn’t really tell anybody because he thought they’d think he was a little nutty.
SWALLOW: And the vocalization didn’t start for a few years after he was at the aquarium, but as soon as we heard it, we knew where he got it from because he was saying things in my father’s accent, exact same thing my father repeated over and over. Like “Hello there,” and “Come over here,” “Get out of there” and “Hey, hey, stupid!” He’d always talk to the seal, constantly, but he never said the seal talked back. Not, until later.
YOUNG: Did he sort of just become like a pet? Sort of like a dog with flippers, or what?
SWALLOW: Yeah, actually it was quite a bit like having a pet dog. Actually, it’s one of the stories my father would talk about because the seal would ride in his jeep. I think he had a jeep then, it might have been a scout, but anyway one of these jeepy vehicles. And the seal would sit in the passenger seat, and one day he was up in the local town up here, Brunswick, and he stopped at a stoplight, some kids on s street corner looked at the jeep, and one of them goes, “Look! Look! That dog has got no ears!”
YOUNG: [Laughs] Now, your dad tried to return Hoover to the wild before Hoover ended up at the aquarium, right? How did that go?
SWALLOW: Well, he was getting fairly big, oh, a couple feet long at this point, and my father took him down in a skiff and put him in the water. He swam around, he liked that great, and my father started to come back in with the skiff, and thinking maybe he would just go and find some other seals, but he came swimming over and just flipped right into the boat. One of the people my father worked for got a hold of the aquarium, and they agreed to take the seal.
YOUNG: Now, your father’s not with us anymore, correct?
SWALLOW: No, he passed away in ’97.
YOUNG: And, apparently your family decided to memorialize Hoover along with your Dad’s memorial, correct?
SWALLOW: Yep, on his headstone there’s an engraving from a photograph…it was in the Boston Globe when they took Hoover down to the aquarium. My father’s holding Hoover, and Hoover’s kissing him, giving him a little nudge in the cheek.
YOUNG: Sweet. George Swallow, thank you very much for helping us get the story of Hoover the seal straight. I want to say now this story has the official seal of approval, doesn’t it?
SWALLOW: Okay, I guess it does! [Laughs]
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