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In Killer Whales and Humans, Older Moms May Be Best

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Saturday, February 07, 2009 | 0 comments

Photo by nion
Shamu, the killer whaleKiller whales that are nearing menopause make the best moms, a new study finds. This could be the case among humans, though it's less clear.

Killer whales (Orcinus orca) are extremely long-lived marine mammals. While males can live as many as 50 years, female killer whales can live much longer — scientists have even found one female that is thought to be more than 90.

Females can have their first calves (as baby killer whales are called) as early as age 10, and can continue having offspring until their early 40s, when menopause can start to kick in.

Just as in humans, menopause ends a female killer whale's ability to reproduce. Just why humans, whales and other mammals have evolved this trait is unknown. Some scientists think menopause could simply be due to physiological deterioration that comes with age, while others think it could increase the fitness of older females.

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About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
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