Killer Whale Moms and Menopause

Killer whales in Glacier Bay, Alaska. Photo by Steve Raymer, c. NGS.

 

Despite their fearsome moniker, it turns out that male killer whales are mama’s boys who have a hard time surviving on their own.  Scientists think that’s one of the reasons the female of the species go through an unusually long menopause.  (Female killer whales generally stop having offspring in their forties but can live into their nineties.)  These post-menopausal years can make a big difference for a male killer whale.  Researchers found that males who had lost their mothers — even mature ones — were fourteen times more likely to die than males whose mothers were still living.

Interestingly, the survival of female whales appears to be less affected by maternal mortality.  Scientists believe this may have something to do with how killer whale social groups are structured.

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