The wisest matriarchs of the mammal world may not be humans! The female Orca can live to be almost 100 years old and her intelligence is incredible, she passes on all of her knowledge to her family members and takes extra special care of her sons… the reason why is astonishing! Orca live together in family pods that range between 5 to 40 individuals with the oldest female being the wise matriarch of the group. A female Orca will have one calf every 3-10 years depending on the individual and it is believed that most female Orca will have between 3-6 calves that make it to adulthood in her lifetime, so every calf is precious to the family group.
Her sons are very important to her as she knows when they reach breeding age they will spread her gene pool to other pods as the males travel to meet and mate with females outside of the family group. Being limited in her reproductive lifespan, she is able to have more calves born with her genes thanks to her sons and also avoid too many mouths to feed in her own family group, as you can see it is a brilliant win-win situation for the matriarch and the future of her family pod. The importance of her gene pool is not the only focus for the matriarch female, she also understands that all of these mini matriarchs that are being produced over the years will need a solid food source.
Seasons and outside influences can change where and when Orca feed and they will travel thousands of kilometres to reach suitable feeding grounds. The matriarch will not only know of these feeding grounds, most likely learnt from her own mother who was once the matriarch, but also add to them over the years. This is especially important when change such as food depletion or environmental impact (such as during the years of whaling and current pollution) have an affect on the food source and the pod must adapt their hunting techniques or feeding grounds.
All of this important information is stored and passed down the generations by the matriarch and her effect on the family pod is vital, sadly when a matriarch is lost too young it can be the beginning of a very hard time for the family. The structures of the family pod is drastically changed and a new matriarch will need to take her place, this is usually her eldest daughter. The more we learn about the life of Australian Orca the more we can better understand them and how the transition of one matriarch to another takes place for the Australian Orca pods, but for now one things is for certain and that is the intelligence of these matriarchs is truly incredible!