Theories around why female orcas, like humans, go through the menopause have now been confirmed, after the release of a report detailing years of study led by Prof Darren Croft from the University of Exeter.
Orcas are one of just three species that go through menopause – stopping reproduction part-way through their lives. By recording every birth and death in a large number of orca families, the research group concluded that this is a rare and clever piece of evolution that increases the chances of survival for their young. It is thought that the menopause may be a process that prevents ‘reproductive conflict’ between mothers and daughters, and could well play a similar role for humans.
By living long after they have stopped reproducing, female orcas can then spend the rest of their life looking after their offspring. Young orcas are unusual in that they continue to live with their mothers for the duration of the mother’s life and mum plays a very important part in the family group – passing on knowledge to their young, such as when and where to get food.
Read the report in the journal Current Biology.
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