Saturday, 15 September 2012

Killer whales live on after menopause to protect sons

Killer whale mothers live longer lives in order to protect their sons, a study has found.

Females give birth in their thirties but can live for a further 50 years after having their offspring.

Scientists from the University of Exeter used long-term records to identify possible reasons for this long non-reproductive phase of life.

They found that the presence of mothers ensured greater survival of adult sons to breeding age.

The findings are published in the journal Science.

"Prolonged life after menopause remains one of nature's great mysteries," said Dr Darren Croft from the University of Exeter who led the study.

Killer whales, also known as orca, are of particular interest because, after humans, they have one of the longest post-reproductive life spans in the natural world.

Most animals must survive on their own as an adult but in a small number of species, including chimpanzees and elephants, females continue to care for their adult sons.


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