Killer whales have long been known to be among the most formidable and intelligent predators in the ocean. However, another feature of these animals is their strong family ties, which they maintain throughout their lives, writes BBC .
In a new study, scientists from the University of Exeter focused on studying the complex social and family life of killer whales living in the North Pacific.
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Note that this study, in fact, is part of an ongoing mission to study the family life of killer whales and has been going on for more than 40 years. Back in 1976, the Center for Whale Research (CWR) conducted a complete census of the southern ocean inhabitants, which allowed scientists to conduct research with several generations of animals at once, which means studying their complex social and family ties in more detail.
For this study, Professor Darren Croft and colleagues studied the lives of four dozen females between 1982 and 2021. Scientists have discovered a curious pattern – for the mother of killer whale sons, the probability of raising another cub before the age of one is halved.
According to CWR researcher Michael Weiss, previous research shows that sons are much more likely to survive in the ocean if their mother is nearby. In the new study, the researchers focused on finding out what the price mothers pay for this long-term relationship is enormous.
Scientists have found that raising a son significantly reduces the chances of killer whales to reproduce in the future – mothers literally give their cubs their energy and even part of their food throughout their lives. In fact, killer whale sons continue to draw “vital juices” from their mothers throughout their lives.
The study of this killer whale population in the coastal waters between Vancouver and Seattle was initiated by Dr. Ken Balcom. He initially focused on the threats to the survival of these mighty predators. Only decades later, scientists discovered curious facts that made them think about the main question – why female killer whales, like people, stop breeding halfway through their lives.