Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there.

Killer Females – Menopause and Nature’s Plan for Older Females

The most valuable lessons I have learned about being female, I have learned from Killer Whales. For example, it is through my knowledge of these highly cultured whales that I know Nature’s plan for older females.

Let’s face it, human society does not generally help in this regard. As time etches lines into our interiors and exteriors – society does not tell us we are a-okay!  No, the general messaging is about loss, faded youth and endings. Firm up! Dye that hair! Want some Botox baby? We’re sweeping you aside, ‘cause you’re old!

Thank goodness I believe in Mother Nature.

One of my teachers – A12 aka “Scimitar”; born around 1941 and now passed away. She was a Northern resident (fish-eating) Killer Whale who was the grand dame of the A12 matriline.


As I weather the physiological and psychological changes of this time of my life, I know there is purpose in all this. Humans and Killer Whales are among the very few animal species where the females go through menopause; where they can live beyond their child-bearing years as “post-reproductive females”.

In the case of Killer Whale females, they can give birth between the ages of around 12 to 40 but are believed to be able to live to at least age 80. Thereby, female Killer Whales may live almost twice as long as they have babies. On the face of it, this appears to violate one of Mama Nature’s great laws. That is, if you’re going to use our food, you better pass on our genes.

But Nature makes sense. Therefore, the role of post-reproductive females must be so valuable that it “justifies” their using the population’s resources.

Science in fact believes that the old female Killer Whales are the teachers and decision-makers. These grandmas, wizened by their years, are believed to teach mothering skills, how and where to hunt; and they are known to share food, especially with their eldest son. These activities would benefit the population by ensuring that the offspring are better able to survive and mate . . . passing on shared genes. Since first posting this blog a decade ago, there has been further science published on this. Please see sources below. 

The likely role of the old females has been acknowledged in science with the convention being that each family group of Killer Whales is named for the eldest female (e.g. the A12s). Also, the collective name for a group of Killer Whales is “matriline” which loosely translates into “follow your mother”.

Female Killer Whales have taught me that I am not less as I age but rather that there is teaching to be done and leadership to be embraced.

These years are to be lived . . . as a killer female.

Another one of my teachers – A30 aka “Tsitika” with one of her sons, A39 “Pointer”. ©Jackie Hildering.

Studies related to my reflections above:

25 Responses to “Killer Females – Menopause and Nature’s Plan for Older Females”

  1. jacqui Engel

    “Mother Nature” got it right, and so did you my ‘ Killer female’ friend. Wise words that we should all heed. Growing old is a gift denied to many! Thank you for this wonderful perspective!

  2. Billie Hildering

    I am so glad to hear your explanation Jackie I feel so much more valued hahahah

  3. ev smtih

    Jackie I know you posted this just for me, me, me as I approach my 60th Birthday! (as we all know it is all about me) tee hee
    What a great post to teach us that yet again, whales are superior in their understanding of respecting elders, something that we are losing at a great rate of speed. Hopefully we will
    ‘get it’ at some point.


  4. Rosann Haggerty

    Thank you Jackie, I needed this today. I was nurtured and believed in by my Grandmother and sometimes have felt that my good intentions are stepping on the parents of my Grandchildren. As long as it is the right thing to do I will continue to be the “Killer Granny”.
    Children need Grandmas.

    • jackiehildering

      Dear Rosann / “Killer Granny”,
      Thank you! There is so much power in your 3 words “Children need Grandmas”. Yes, and society needs we “middle age and over females” not to feel like we should sit lavender-scented in a corner. There are more women of our demographic with “means” in the world now than there have ever been in the history of humankind. We can buy into the societal/media narcotic of being past our best-due -date or we can . . . do something with our knowledge and experience! What a different world it would be. So again thank you. There is no more powerful role model for how to age meaningfully than a killer granny! Spread the word!

  5. Cheryl
    anchors when things fall apart,
    most powerful leaders
    thank you
    Coincidentally, the story goes, that these woman, or their mothers, who are from different parts of the world, had a vision of 13 of them coming together to help change the world.
    Rock and roll grannies from around the world uniting. watch out.

  6. Maureen Gordon

    Awesome post, Jackie. You put that truth into words so nicely. I will continually think of this every year that my birthday rolls around, and remember the wisdom and skill that accumulate only with age and experience – and the responsibility to give them back to the “pod”.

    Maureen from the Maple Leaf

  7. MaryK

    wow Jackie- powerful stuff i will forward.
    you have encapsulated exactly what we wise women talk about behind
    closed doors: how it feels in this culture to be experienced, lined, and with an ageless and open heart, yet
    rendered invisible to those who don’t understand the beauty nor the essential contributions of this life stage.
    i will carry the metaphor of killer female with me as i continue to plumb the depths with this salty soul, thank you.

    • jackiehildering

      Mary, how beautifully, beautifully you express this! I had so hoped with this blog entry that there would come a sense of a shared awareness, intent and community of kindred salty souled females. Thank you so much for sharing you eloquence and wisdom!

  8. ev

    Hi Jackie, I am writing this to disagree with your preface that this post is not designed for the younger set. I believe that both our youth and our ‘elders’ could learn a lot from the whales in, that age is a respectable circumstance and we need to look closely at how we perceive age as being somehow detrimental and then perhaps look at it in a more positive light as whales do, and many other well established, wiser cultures. I am conscious of our First People’s respect for elders and the wisdom they bring. We cannot and should not remain stagnant in our ‘youthful’ endeavors which is so prevalent in our society. With age can come dignity and wisdom, something this post speaks to very clearly.
    I would hope that my daughters and grand daughters can learn to accept themselves at whatever age they are, in any given moment (and I could learn this lesson too 🙂 )
    I always enjoy reading your posts Jackie!

    • jackiehildering

      Agree fully Wise Ev! It was the language I used in the post that I flagged as being not child-aimed. Thanks so very much for the input.

  9. Bonnie

    Thank you Jackie for this lovely insight, and reminder of how we fit into Mother Nature’s schemes…..the matriarch Lummi and son Taku were my very first up close and personal encounter wtih orcas, and now I’m deeply involved spiritually and practically with them!

  10. joy

    Heyy Jackie!!! It was fun having you on the whale watching trip. My favourite was the white-sided dolphin. What was yours? 🙂

    • jackiehildering

      It was all so wonderful Joy. I kind of liked the little humans the best and was thrilled that we sighted a humpback for which there is no previous science record in B.C.

  11. Jade Robinson

    Hi Jackie how are you i love the pictures of the killer whales and i really enjoyed the whale watching trip it was awesome.

  12. Jade Robinson

    Your awesome Jackie! I Hope you had fun on the whale watching trip i know i did… 🙂

  13. Jade Robinson

    Heyy! 🙂 JACKIE whats going on love all the pictures on your website there great your so awesome k gtg bye!! 🙂

    • jackiehildering

      Hello Jade!

      It is so wonderful to hear from you all but I have to get back to my Save Our Salmon work very soon! You are all making my day.

  14. Jade Robinson & Hannah Peabody

    Jade: Hello JACKIE I had so much fun on the whale-watching trip my favourite part was when the dolphins were swimming next to us and the white-sided Dolphins…. 🙂 Hannah: Hello JACKIE i had so much fun on the whale-watching trip although I got sick. My favourite part was the white-sided dolphins and the new humpback that is called shark tooth now. 😛


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