Grandma’s Guidance

killer whale fins above ocean water

When times get tough…who won’t let you down? Grandma!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

What do humans and killer whales have in common? Menopause! Only a few species experience it. But why? Is there a reason that whale mamas stop reproducing?

Meet Daniel Franks at the University of York in England. Franks and his team studied a pod of killer whales. They tracked their social interactions, lifespans, and favorite foods. The researchers wanted to compare grandma whales that still reproduce to grandmas that had gone through menopause.

Results? In hard times, grandma whales are crucial for survival! As salmon numbers decline, food becomes scarce. Young adult whales that stick with their post-menopausal grandmothers have the highest survival rates. Older female whales still having babies compete with their own daughters for salmon. 

But menopausal whales have the time and energy to help their grandchildren find food. 

Menopause lets Granny focus on the grandkids and boost survival rates with her wisdom. It may have evolved in humans for similar reasons.

So remember: call your grandma! And savor her fruitcake.