What Happens When Orcas Reach Menopause

orca-pod-by-CWR

Our friends at the Center for Whale Research, and the University of Exeter, the University of York have just published results after examining 35 years’ worth of observational data from our Southern Resident Pod of orcas. After looking at more than 3 decades’ worth of photographs capturing whales on the move, they noticed an interesting pattern: post-menopausal orca females, the oldest in the group, typically swam at the front and directed the pod’s movements.

Why is that the case? Smithsonian Magazine has the whole story and we strongly encourage you to read the entire article (the study results were published in the journal Current Biology).

However, the upshot is that “with age, comes wisdom!”

Orca females stop reproducing at around 50 years old, which is also the age when most male orcas are nearing the ends of their lives. Many post-menopausal females still have another 40 years to go, however.

“One way post-reproductive females may boost the survival of their kin is through the transfer of ecological knowledge,” says Lauren Brent of the University of Exeter. “The value gained from the wisdom of elders can help explain why female killer whales and humans continue to live long after they have stopped reproducing.”

So far from retiring, orca females that are past their child-bearing years go on to become group leaders with valuable survival skills!

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