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What Killer Whales and Menopausal Women Have in Common

Research has shown interesting links between the reproductive patterns of humans and some types of whales.


Just to be clear, I am not referring to the killer mood swings that can occur during menopause but to a study by the Universities of Exeter and Cambridge. This study has found a link between killer whales, pilot whales and humans (in this case the female variety) as the only three known species known to stop breeding relatively early in their lifespan.

The research was led by Dr Michael Cant, from the University of Exeter’s School of Biosciences, but I do wonder how much experience of menopausal women he has that drew him to do it?

However science goes bravely forward and has given us for the first time a plausible explanation as to why these species in particular are the only ones in which reproduction ends while there is still plenty of healthy and active life to look forward. How much killer whales look forward to the future is not actually known but let’s be generous and assume that they too have dreams of holidays in Tahiti when the children have grown up.

How we relate to those we live with as we age

What they have discovered is that despite very different social structures between the three species, the research shows that in each case females become increasingly genetically related to those they live with as they get older. Because of this, there is a motivation for older females to do what is best for the survival of those around them.

Or in other words, the female now takes on a ‘grandmother’ role, so that the success rate of breeding in the group can be helped by older females sharing parenting knowledge and stopping breeding to allow younger females easier access to resources.

Of course for us humans this theory has just flown out of the window with the development of IVF and the new menopause prediction tests. Women’s desire to control their fertility and continue having babies at a much older age – even into their 60s – is going to have quite an impact.

Grandmothers are no longer going to be as available for baby sitting and are much more likely to be asking their children to do it for them.

Though I do think it could be very helpful when dealing with someone who is unhappy with your menopausal mood swings to remind them that you have a lot in common with killer whales!