SeaWorld's curator of zoological operations Chuck Tompkins responded to Hargrove's criticism, telling Fresh Air that the company does not separate young whales from their mothers.
We've never moved a calf from a mom. ... A calf is an animal young enough who is still dependent on the mom, still nursing with the mom, and still requires the mom's leadership ... We think they're probably dependent [at] 4 to 5 years. After that, they start to gain their independence.
Despite SeaWorld's claims, many of its captive whales have been separated at early ages, according to the nonprofit organization Orca Network, which has been recording the movements of SeaWorld's orcas for decades. It says at least eight SeaWorld orca calves were separated from their mothers when they were 4 or younger. In addition, at least six SeaWorld calves were separated from their mothers when they were taken from the wild at ages 3 or younger.
In 2014, SeaWorld tweeted a photo of a mother and calf to illustrate that they recognize their "important bond."