New Additions to the Menopause Club

It seems humans have something in common with whales. Particularily female humans.

Beluga whales and narwhals are part of the menopause club, according to a new study published by Scientific Reports.

The journal pointed out that this recent discovery could affect whale population management. There’s really no such thing as an “old mama” with most other species. Females produce until the end of their lives – this includes our closest animal relatives such as the chimpanzee and gorilla. Menopause is a pretty rare thing and up until this study, it was only orcas, short-finned pilot whales, and us humans that had menopause.

Menopause in humans can happen anywhere between the ages of 35 to 65, with most females stopping to reproduce by their early-to-mid-40s (because, let’s face it, who wants to deal with teenagers at the age of 60?! Thank you, Mother Nature for reading THAT play!), orcas also stop reproducing in their early 40s. Interesting to note their average life span also mirrors that of humans; they can live to be anywhere between 60-80. Based on what we know about orcas and how their societies operate, researchers figure menopause may be linked to evolution – older females use their experience to help their children and grandchildren survive.

To sum – getting older and hitting menopause increases the value of a female orca within its society as they are more likely to be leaders.

"Through age and experience, they have information that other members of the population don't have," UK whale researcher Lauren Brent told CBC’s Quirks and Quarks. "Sharing information about when to find salmon might make all the difference in terms of whether or not your relatives live to the next year.  And we think that might explain why these whales are living such a long period of time after they stop reproducing."

Brent, who works for the University of Exeter, thinks similar transmission of knowledge and wisdom may have been important for humans before the invention of writing. That may explain why women also live so long after menopause, said the article.

How about that, huh? RESPECT!



Rebecca Dixon