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Inside the killer whale matriarchy – Darren Croft

Inside the killer whale matriarchy – Darren Croft


Off the rugged coast
of the pacific northwest, pods of killer whales
inhabit the frigid waters. Each family is able to survive here thanks mainly to one member, its most knowledgeable hunter: the grandmother. These matriarchs can live eighty years
or more, while most males die off
in their thirties. Though killer whales inhabit
every major ocean, until recently we knew
very little about them. The details of their lives
eluded scientists until an organization called
the Center for Whale Research began studying a single population near Washington State and
British Columbia in 1976. Thanks to their ongoing work, we’ve learned a great deal
about these whales, known as the Southern Residents. And the more we learn, the more this population’s elders’
vital role comes into focus. Each grandmother starts her life as a calf born into her mother’s family group,
or matriline. The family does everything together, hunting and playing, even communicating
through their own unique set of calls. Both sons and daughters spend their entire
lives with their mothers’ families. That doesn’t mean a young whale
only interacts with her relatives. Besides their own special calls, her matriline shares a dialect
with nearby families, and they socialize regularly. Once a female reaches age fifteen or so, these meetings become opportunities
to mate with males from other groups. The relationships don’t go much
beyond mating— she and her calves stay with her family, while the male returns to his own mother. Until approximately age forty, she gives birth every 6 years on average. Then, she goes through menopause— which is almost unheard of
in the animal kingdom. In fact, humans, killer whales and
a few other whales are the only species whose females
continue to live for years after they stop reproducing. After menopause, grandmothers take the lead
hunting for salmon, the Southern Residents’ main food source. Most of the winter they forage offshore, supplementing salmon with other fish. But when the salmon head
towards shore in droves to spawn, the killer whales follow. The matriarch shows the younger whales where to find the most fertile
fishing grounds. She also shares up to 90% of
the salmon she catches. With each passing year, her contributions become more vital: overfishing and habitat destruction have
decimated salmon populations, putting the whales at near-constant
risk of starvation. These grandmothers’ expertise can mean the difference between
life and death for their families– but why do they stop having calves? It’s almost always advantageous for a
female to continue reproducing, even if she also cares for her existing
children and grandchildren. A couple unique circumstances
change this equation for killer whales. The fact that neither sons or daughters leave their families of origin
is extremely rare— in almost all animal species, one or both sexes disperse. This means that as a female
killer whale ages, a greater percentage of her family consists of her children
and grandchildren, while more distant relatives die off. Because older females are more closely
related to the group than younger females, they do best to invest in the family
as a whole, whereas younger females should
invest in reproducing. In the killer whale’s environment, every new calf is another mouth to feed on limited, shared resources. An older female can further her genes
without burdening her family by supporting her adult sons, who sire calves other families will raise. This might be why the females have evolved to stop reproducing entirely
in middle age. Even with the grandmothers’ contributions, the Southern Resident killer whales
are critically endangered, largely due to a decline in salmon. We urgently need to invest in restoring
salmon populations to save them from extinction. In the long term, we’ll need more studies
like the Center for Whale Research’s. What we’ve learned about
the Southern Residents may not hold true for other groups. By studying other populations closely, we might uncover more
startling adaptations, and anticipate their vulnerabilities
to human interference before their survival is at risk.

100 thoughts on “Inside the killer whale matriarchy – Darren Croft”

  1. And SeaWorld think they’re toys. Who thinks we need to ban SeaWorld!? Raise a hand if you agree 🖐🏻

  2. I've noticed a trend in nature; species of higher intelligence (i.e. elephants, orcas, lions) almost always are run by matriarchs… I wonder what that says about humans?
    *sips tea*

  3. Sees that the Great Lakes are the same color as the killer whale habitat

    Well that doesn’t surprise me

  4. I love orcas, but after hearing how important is living with their faimily it makes it worst to know how they would feel being captive in an aquarium…

  5. I feel but we aren't interfering with their food it's just natural selection they run out of food that die

  6. Sadly Japan and China are trying to empty our oceans… They don't understand being reasonable for others to benefit

  7. 0:27
    Grandmothers develop scars on their body as they are old and throughout their lives battled predators to protect newborn calves.

  8. Environmental concerns are just part of it. The salmon need to survive to reproduce. That doesn't happen if they are poached out of the fish ladders and hatcheries!

  9. They're the type of grandma's who ask what your doing for dinner and you answer "having leftover pizza" and to this they make you stay and have a home cooked four course meal instead.

  10. Asia is most responsible for over fishing and they don't plan on slowing down; the only solution is to enforce aquarium breeding for fish consumed for humans

  11. This video was so beautiful and informative. The whales, the sound of water and music was very soothing. Well done TED. 🙂

  12. I'm pretty sure Japan has tonnes of literature works regarding whale population, given their annual 'whale research expedition'. In fact, we must demand that Japan publish their findings annually, hopefully not in the form of new cooking recipes.

  13. If humans stopped eating the salmon (that they don't even need to have in order to survive) there would be more salmon for the orcas and seals, who need the salmon to survive.

  14. The Amazing Grandmothers of the Killer Whale Poo – this is what my eyes initially saw on thumbnail! Was so confused for a sec lol

  15. I liked your you up load!! We need to save these Beautiful animals if you know anyone going on a holiday and they might go to a marine park please explain why they shouldn’t!!! Please don’t buy a ticket!!!!!

  16. Overfishing, hmmm, humans of course. We like our seafoods, but don't care how it effects the other animals that survive those same seafoods. Humans as a whole r creating extinctions. It's big business to profit off the resources of the planet; the greed of money. There's not enough conservation being done. The conservation being done is just a token gesture; won't slow down or stop any of the destruction. Once all these big businesses, industries that profit from extorting the planet's resources r gone, then real conservation can begin; but until then we'll continue to destroy our planet. Those big businesses & industries control how the world is run.

  17. Another example of why these Amazing creatures don't belong in captivity. It's astonishing how "trainers" are supposed to be so well educated on the species, yet can't figure out why keeping them swimming pools is basically torture.

  18. Uh, lots of animals continue living after no longer being able to reproduce? Chicken lay eggs for only 2 years before that stop forever. So that is totally false.

  19. The head of the Center for Whale Research recently endorsed a theory put forth that Pink Salmon were hurting the Southern Resident Killer Whales attempts to locate and catch Chinook Salmon because the shear mass of the Pink runs fouled the echo-location ability of the orca's. The basis for this theory was the fact that orca's died 3.5 times more in even numbered years than in odd years, based on Pink Salmon running every even numbered year in Washington and lower B.C. waters. The founder, and principal investigator for the Center of Whale Research, Ken Balcomb, praised this research as a breakthrough, and the news stories made their rounds throughout the Pacific Northwest and national news. Only one problem: Pink Salmon only run in ODD YEARS in these waters!! I contacted the Center for Whale Research immediately to point out the error, but Ken and the other "experts" declined to return my calls or emails. Starving orca's eat Pink, Chum, and Silver Salmon when they can get their teeth around them, Chinook are merely their favorite. It is sad that the Center for Whale Research does not know when Salmon runs occur in the areas the Southern Resident Killer Whales live! Dr. Croft certainly has very fancy degrees, but unlike him or his colleague Ken Balcomb, I know when Salmon run in the waters the SRKW's live in. I realize how embarrassing this is for them, being so called experts and publically and enthusiastically endorsing a theory so fatally flawed that it is no longer discussed. Shhh! Don't tell anyone!

  20. Love the video but, is “killer whale” necessary? They are orcas. We don’t need to call them their stereotypical nickname

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