Killer Whales May Be Best Role Models for Menopausal Women

Patient Expert

So are you buying into some of society's messages that once you go through menopause, you're no longer a valued part of our culture? If so, I'd suggest that you start reading up on older female killer whales and start thinking how you can emulate them.

In a recently published study, researchers out of Great Britain and the state of Washington studied 751 hours of video on killer whales that was taken during the annual salmon migrations off the coast of British Columbia and Washington. These videos were taken over a period of nine years and included groups of whales that had been identified and tracked since 1975. This enabled the researchers to identify the age and relatedness of 102 whales.

So what does the research suggest?

  • Female killer whales that are beyond their reproductive years assumed leadership roles in their whale pods because they become repositories of ecological knowledge.
  • The older female killer whales are able to teach younger killer whales about survival skills since the older whales no longer have to deal with caring for their own young children.
  • The older female killer whale's role becomes even more important during lean years when the whale's main diet, salmon, is scarce.
  • The researchers hypothesize that older female whales continue to be valued by the whale pod because of their accumulated knowledge as well as her genetic stake in the group's survival.

What does this research suggest about the menopausal transition in humans?

"In humans, it has been suggested that menopause is simply an artefact of modern medicine and improved living conditions," said Darren Croft of the University of Exeter, who served as the senior author of the study. "However, mounting evidence suggests that menopause in humans is adaptive. In hunter-gatherers, one way that menopausal women help their relatives, and thus increase the transmission of their own genes, is by sharing food. Menopausal women may have also shared another key commodity: information."

For another look at this study, here's a good video (altough I take issue with their title which suggests there is a "weird reason" for why killer whales may be the best animals ever:

Therefore, I'd suggest that members of this community should analyze their strengths and what they can bring to the table as older women. Start offering your wisdom to your family (whether that's a biological family or the family that you create). Find ways to get involved in your community and use your well-earned knowledge to help solve larger issues. In these ways, you, too, can thrive after menopause.

Other Shareposts You Might Like:

6 Surprising Details About Menopause

Harper, Nyad, Doerr Offer Examples of Life After Menopause

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Healy, M. (2015). Menopausal killer whales lead the group, study says. Houston Chronicle.

ScienceDaily. (2015). Menopausal whales are influential and informative leaders.