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Posts Tagged ‘grandmothers’

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Photo: NOAA
Aerial image of Granny J2 (right) and a juvenile orca, J45, chasing a salmon in September 2016. Ultimately J2 captured the salmon and presented it to J45.

Being a grandparent himself, my husband recently took note of some research on grandmothers in the animal kingdom and judged it blogworthy. This version of the story appeared online at King5News.

Michael Crowe reports, “A team of researchers have found having a young orca’s grandmother around improves survival of the offspring. A study published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences tests the ‘grandmother effect’ in Southern and Northern Resident killer whales off Washington state and British Columbia. …

“The study used decades of photo census records of the two populations to study survival of individual whales and connected family groups through observation. And they found if a grandmother whale died, it reduced the survival of her ‘grandwhales’ in the two years following her death.

“ ‘The statistics showed they were healthier and lived longer when they had a thriving grandmother,’ said Howard Garrett, co-founder of the Orca Network.

“Dr. Deborah Giles, a killer whale researcher at the University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology, said the study confirmed decades of observations.

“ ‘They’re incredibly socially bonded animals,’ Giles said. She said it’s a fascinating relationship, because whales can live decades after they cease reproducing – killer whales have evolved one of the longest post-reproductive spans outside humans.

“She recalled an aerial photo of J2 (also known as ‘Granny’) from 2016 sharing fish with J45 – her apparent great-grandson. J45’s mother had recently died, and he was not yet old enough to thrive without support. Though J2 was thin and towards the end of her life, she helped the younger relation.

‘It sticks out to me, because this is an animal in here late 80s, maybe old as early hundreds,’ said Giles. ‘She’s clearly trying to keep that fish in the pathway of her relative so he’ll eat it. …

” ‘She could have eaten that fish in one bite, but she chose to corral it toward him so he’d grab it.’

“The study also notes the importance of grandmother whales in lean salmon years when the female leaders serve as ‘repositories for ecological knowledge.’ …

“ ‘The grandmothers have that long perspective, the multi-decade look at where the salmon have been, the nooks and crannies,’ said Garrett. ‘… So they’re constantly in that role of guide, mentor, teacher. They share not only their food, but their traditions, their ways.’ …

“There are 73 Southern Resident whales we know of, Giles said, and of that, there are just four grandmothers remaining – one in J pod, one in K pod, and two in L pod. She worries that these grandmothers will only become more important to the endangered Southern Resident killer whales’ survival. …

“Garrett also hopes deeper knowledge of the whales’ behaviors will encourage people to help protect them.

“ ‘I think the study helps people learn more detail, more higher resolution if you will, of how they live and who they are,’ he said. ‘They really are individuals with their own identities, their own roles, their own place in their societies and in their families. And the more we get to know them in that kind of intricate detail, the more we feel close to them, and want to help them in any way we possibly can.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Shutterstock
Another name for the orca is killer whale.

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Photo: Photobucket at Psychology Today
Hadza grandmother in Northern Tanzania. Hazda grandmothers’ labor and care is correlated with better nutritional status and survival rates in Hadza children. Anthropologist Kristen Hawkes studies the Hazda for a window on ancient worlds.

As a grandmother myself, I am naturally drawn to well researched articles on grandmothers throughout history. Their role has fluctuated, of course. In some periods, they have been useful — essential even. At other times, they have been pretty useless. Here’s a report from John Poole about very early grandmothers. I heard it at Rhode Island Public Radio.

Kristen Hawkes is an anthropologist at the University of Utah. She tries to figure out our past by studying modern hunter-gatherers like the Hadza, who likely have lived in the area that is now northern Tanzania for thousands of years. Groups like this are about as close as we can get to seeing how our early human ancestors might have lived.

“Over many extended field visits, Hawkes and her colleagues kept track of how much food a wide sample of Hadza community members were bringing home. She says that when they tracked the success rates of individual men, ‘they almost always failed to get a big animal.’ … In this society at least, the [old] hunting hypothesis seemed way off the mark. If people here were depending on wild meat to survive, they would starve.

“So if dad wasn’t bringing home the bacon, who was? After spending a lot of time with the women on their daily foraging trips, the researchers were surprised to discover that the women, both young and old, were providing the majority of calories to their families and group-mates.

“Mostly, they were digging tubers, which are deeply buried and hard to extract. The success of a mother at gathering these tubers correlated with the growth of her child.

But something else surprising happened once mom had a second baby:

“That original relationship went away and a new correlation emerged with the amount of food their grandmother was gathering. …

“In this foraging society, it turns out, grandmothers were more important to child survival than fathers.”

Other researchers have come up with other likely benefits of prehistoric grandmothers.

Michael Tomasello is a developmental psychologist at Duke University and the Max Planck Institute. … Tomasello originally assumed that the pro-social traits in human babies [described by researchers such as U.C. Davis primatologist Sarah Hrdy] were preparing kids for skills they’d need as adults, in line with the Man the Hunter hypothesis. Now he thinks that Hrdy’s proposal – that human babies are so socially oriented as a result of shared child care and feeding – is a more compelling theory. The traits appear so early in a human’s life that it makes better sense that they were adapted to early childhood situations rather than adult hunting behaviors.

“It’s this ability to ‘put our heads together,’ as Tomasello puts it, that may have allowed humans to survive, thrive and spread across the globe. While the men were out hunting, grandmothers and babies were building the foundation of our species’ success – sharing food, cooperating on more and more complex levels and developing new social relationships.”

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“In rural Uganda,” writes Madeline Bishop for Global Envision, “light streams from the Ssenyonjo family’s windows through the night. The children inside sleep soundly, free from worry of snakes and thieves. They are prepared for the morning’s classes after an evening of study. What’s more, their lungs are healthy – no one wakes with coughing fits or fevers.

“But for nearly one-fifth of the world’s population that does not yet have solar power like the Ssenyonjo family, this vision of clean energy is still a dream. Some 1.3 billion people live without access to electricity. …

“Many companies are now taking on the achievable goal of increasing access to clean energy across the globe.

“For their solar programs to be successful, these companies focus on tailored marketing strategies to make sure the products are affordable, accepted, and culturally appropriate for the people who could most benefit from them. …

“Some solar manufacturers and energy distributors are helping people skirt [up-front] costs through creative financing models. …

“Customers can finance their own solar systems for less than what they would otherwise be spending on kerosene. [African solar company] M-KOPA reports a savings of $750 per household over the course of four years and 125 hours of fume-free lighting each month.”

Read about the wide variety of approaches to this work in developing countries here, including why Barefoot College has a “training program for grandmothers, who are more likely to stay put and use their knowledge for the good of their communities. … They learn how to install, maintain, and repair the solar systems and, upon graduation, receive a monthly salary for their work.” Hear, Hear!

Photo: Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

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You may recall that six grandmothers from the former Soviet Union competed in Eurovision. We blogged about them here. Loreen from Sweden won first prize, but the babushki came in second.

In a follow-up story in the NY Times, Andrew Kramer writes that the grandmas’ fame is bringing a modicum of prosperity to their forgotten village. In particular, it is rebuilding the church that Stalin destroyed and that they loved in secret. They chose to spend their winnings on the church.

“For years, Buranovo was a dying village, one of many in the Russian countryside left behind by an oil-driven boom that revitalized drab Soviet cities and drew the young away from the farms that had sustained their parents. …

“Now, the women’s good fortune is transforming not only their lives, but also Buranovo. In appreciation of the group’s near victory, the local government is building a water pipeline, installing streetlights and high-speed Internet for the village’s sole school and laying new gravel on the main roads. …

“It all began with a miracle, said Olga N. Tuktareva, the leader of the singing group …. Ms. Tuktareva recalled strolling about the village with a friend in 2008 and lamenting a sad episode in local history: the destruction of the Church of the Trinity, taken down like countless other churches in Stalin’s Russia. …

“During that walk, Ms. Tuktareva recalled, her cellphone rang. It was a music producer in Moscow who had heard of the singing babushki …”

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Photograph: Oleg Nikishin

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