Killer whales by Mike Doh on Unsplash


For the latest playlist in our Natural Thinking series, we’re examining some of nature’s most fascinating relationships – and what we humans might learn from them.

From the underground networks connecting fungi and trees, to the complex social systems in ant societies, and the remarkable symbiosis between different species, there are all sorts of unexpected yet harmonious relationships happening on our planet.

We’ve gathered a collection of insightful podcasts, short films, books and features to help you discover more – and perhaps even inspire a deeper reflection of your own relationships with others and the world around you.

1. Killer whales and the mystery of the menopause

Did you know that, across the whole animal kingdom, only humans and four species of whale experience the menopause? We continue to live for decades after the ability to reproduce ceases, whereas most species keep breeding until their dying days. 

This 15-minute podcast by Naturebang dives into the complex world of killer whales, where the eldest post-reproductive matriarch leads the family pod. Listen in as experts discuss ‘The Grandmother Hypothesis’ – which could explain why we (and the whales) may have evolved with this genetic phenomenon, and how it contributes to our species’ success. 

We always thought our grannies were amazing, but here’s some science to prove it!

Link: Naturebang

2. Mutualism: unexpected bonds

Mutualism is a symbiotic relationship where both species benefit from a collaborative approach, sometimes even depending on each other for survival.

Clownfish and anemones are one such pairing. Anemones have stinging tentacles used to subdue their prey, but clownfish are immune to the stings and can safely nestle in their tentacles to hide from predators. In return, the clownfish keep the anemones free from parasites, ward off intruders and even lure small animals for the anemones to eat – extending the lifespan of both marine creatures.

Learn more about their partnership and other unlikely duos in this short piece by the Natural History Museum team.

The wonders of pollination

The awe-inspiring process of pollination has evolved over millions of years and is vital for a strong, healthy ecosystem. In fact, much of our food supply relies on pollinators like bees, butterflies, birds, moths and beetles – but, sadly, this is something that we can no longer take for granted.

Pollinator populations are in decline due to loss of habitats, improper use of pesticides and other human activity. The good news? We can all contribute to their conservation by creating a pollinator-friendly habitat of native plants in our gardens, front yards or even windowboxes. The RHS shares some helpful advice and inspiration in this video.

Link: Top 10 plants for pollinators | The RHS

4. Surfers and the ocean

Surfers have a unique relationship with the sea. For a start, it’s an activity that relies on ocean physics and the right natural conditions. And immersing in saltwater to ride the waves can be both energising and soothing, creating a sense of deep belonging and peace in nature and feeling humbled by its raw power, all at the same time.

Surfing has such an impactful effect that, for many, it becomes a way of life that’s so much more than a hobby or sport. This short film, Why We Surf, by National Trust, shares stories and down-to-earth insights from some of their supporters.

Link: Why we surf, by National Trust

5. The wood wide web

Research into the incredible underground connections and communications between trees and fungi – now dubbed the ‘wood wide web' – only began relatively recently, though it's a symbiotic relationship thought to stretch back almost 500 million years.

World-renowned scientist Suzanne Simard’s groundbreaking findings on the hidden languages of the forest helped shed light on this previously unknown world. In her book, Finding the Mother Tree: Uncovering the Wisdom and Intelligence of the Forest, she tells the story of a lifetime spent studying the mysterious and remarkable truths about trees and mycorrhizal fungi networks. Dig in to discover some incredible truths about trees; including their cooperation, healing capacity, memory, wisdom and sentience.

Link: Finding the Mother Tree

6. Ant colonies and their social systems

Ants live in structured colonies, with different members performing specific roles. It’s one of the most complex social organisations in nature – and, unlike our human social systems, is part of an intricate biologically-programmed cycle.

In this Ted-Ed video, renowned biologist Deborah M Gordon explains more about the fascinating world of ants, including how they mate, communicate and find food – plus the lessons we can learn from these creatures on creating a society that functions so effectively.

Link: TED-Ed, Inside the ant colony

7. Bonus ‘track’

If you’ve got a little longer – and have an appetite for a slow, beautifully brooding surfy tangent building on the human relationships with the sea idea – we’d also recommend watching this mesmerising multi-award- winning film by Mickey Smith and Allan Wilson. With Cornish language voiced by Gwenno Saunders and music by A Blaze of Feather, it “recalls a lifetime of human hearts bewitched by the endless sea” (Finisterre).

Link: Hunros Jorna


Enjoyed this? Dig into our last playlist, Natural Thinking / 06, which explores sustainable food and farming – and all things organic, regenerative and agroecological.

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