You read that correctly, it would appear humans are one of only 3 mammals who go through the menopause, not only that, menopausal killer whales can teach us a thing or two about the menopause! I have to say I wouldn’t want to meet a killer whale at the best of times, let alone a menopausal killer whale, now that’s a frightening image.
I know we’ve written a fair bit on the subject of the menopause but I never knew killer whales also went through it. Not until two of my friends (who also read the blog) sent me copies of two different articles on the same subject, yep you’ve guessed it, menopausal killer whales, both saying how interesting the articles were.
Spookily I had scheduled to write about it this week after being sent it originally by Julie quite a few weeks ago, then low and behold this morning, Lisa, who writes for Optima Magazine (follow the link for a read, it’s full of fab articles), sent me a link to a different article on the same subject! So just had share it today.
What can be so interesting about Menopausal killer whales?
Firstly, as mentioned earlier, they are one of only 3 known mammals who go through menopause, female humans, killer whales and short finned pilot whales. Makes us pretty unique don’t you think? Not even our closest ape cousins, chimpanzees, go through it. Their fertility peters out with age and, in their natural environment, they seldom live beyond childbearing years. We’ve evolved to live long, post productive lives. Perhaps we should thank our lucky stars for the menopause, I never thought I’d say that!
More interestingly, menopausal killer whales, it seems, work very hard to support their families, particularly their adult sons. Female whales who are past their child-bearing years go on to become group leaders with valuable survival skills. Does that sound familiar to any of you? It definitely resonated with me.
Think about it, how many times have you read about women in their late 40’s and 50’s taking back control of their lives. Finding new ventures and adventures to fill their lives, often tying in with their offspring leaving home? I think we do this because we need a focus in life, to be of use, stimulated and renew our self worth and confidence.
The menopausal killer whale is doing something very similar, she is making herself indispensable to her pod, she becomes the matriarch.
Research was undertaken by the University of Exeter and the results implied that menopausal killer whales use their experience to help their families find food in times of hardship. The researchers reported online; “This is the first study to show that these post reproductive females play a key role in their society by storing ecological knowledge,” Croft, one of the researchers, claims. “With killer whales we’re still looking at a species where information is stored in individuals—it’s not stored in the Internet or books,” he says.
Another incredible insight revealed by the research showed just how much adult males depend on older matriarchs for their survival.
“From observations that had been collected on the whales, it appeared that the sons were dying shortly after their mothers died – they were being called ‘mummy’s boys’,” he says.
“So we looked at the [survival] data and found that if a mother dies, the risk of death of her sons is around eightfold the following year.
“And these are not immature males – these are 30-year-old, fully grown sons. She’s doing something that’s keeping those sons alive.”
A mother killer whale’s sons and daughters remain in her pod throughout their lives, and while the males leave briefly – to mix and mate with other females – they return, and are often seen swimming at their mother’s side.
There have even been observations of older females sharing fish with their sons – literally feeding these full-grown “mummy’s boys” with salmon.
So older females, it seems, work very hard to support their families, particularly their adult sons.
The above information was taken from a BBC article, it really is worth a read and may just make you view the menopause in a different light, whether your are male or female. Read the article here BBC Menopausal Whale Article.
Are these menopausal killer whales teaching us there is a purpose in life after our child bearing years? We have wisdom and knowledge to impart to the younger generations. Not to mention how we can use our life experiences to improve our own lives!