SeaWorld is backpedaling again, and no one is buying it.
The struggling company is denying claims that it engages in the "heartbreaking" practice of separating orca moms and their babies - despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
In an interview with NPR's Fresh Air, former SeaWorld orca trainer John Hargrove explained the tragic separation of orca Kasatka and her calf, Takara. Hargrove said:
In fact, [when Takara was taken from Kasatka], she was emitting vocalizations that had never been heard before ever by anyone ... obviously Takara was gone and [Kasatka] was trying anything she could to try to locate and communicate with Takara, which is absolutely heartbreaking. Those vocalizations continued on for a long time ...
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."