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How do Whales Eat?


What you would eat if you lived in the ocean? If you said fish and squid, you’d be right.

But there’s a second correct answer – some whales eat ocean creatures called plankton that are so small they are hard for us to see.

Now think about how whales eat fish and squid. That’s easy – pretty much the way you eat your dinner, by using your teeth.

But what about catching and eating the tiny creatures? Teeth are not much help. And yet, these huge creatures thrive on this diet. They have figured out a different way to eat.

These whales are known as “baleen whales.” Look closely. They don’t have teeth. Instead, they have baleen plates hanging from their upper jaw. Baleen is made of a substance similar to your fingernails with a row of fringe along one side.

Baleen whales swim through the water with their mouth open, taking in large volumes of water that contain the tiny ocean creatures. The fringed baleen then acts as a sieve – the whales squeeze the water out through the baleen, leaving their food caught on the baleen. Then they use their tongue to wipe the baleen clean before swallowing their food.

In the northeast U.S., the common toothed whales are pilot whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Common baleen whales are humpbacks, minkes, and right whales.


  1. whales are so big!

  2. this is a fantastic blog article.

  3. Hello and thanks for your question.

    There are 15 species of baleen whales currently recognized. They include Bowhead Whales, North Atlantic Right Whales, North Pacific Right Whales, Southern Right Whales, Gray Whales, Common Minke Whales, Southern Minke Whales, Blue Whales, Sei Whales, Omura’s Whales, Eden’s Whales, Brude’s Whales, Humpback Whales, Fin Whales, Gray Whales, and Pygmy Right Whales.

    The Omura’s Whale was only recently described as a new, distinct species in 2003!

  4. How many Baleen whales are there?

  5. Is there air in a whale’s mouth or in its belly

  6. Hi Rosa.
    Whales use their tongue to push the water out of their mouth through the baleen. Any food in the water, such as small fish and zooplankton, is caught by the baleen. Once the water is gone, the whale can swallow the food.
    Thanks for your question!

  7. How do the baleen whales squeeze the water out of their mouth?

  8. I am curious about the whole feeding cycle for whales with baleen.
    Step one. The whale blows out air & breathes in air & dives. Senses food& gulps water & food then sqeezes the water out & using its tongue, swallow the food.
    Is the cycle completed while deep in the ocean; does does it repeat on a single breath?

  9. Hi Joseph.
    Baleen whales detect large patches of zooplankton through sound, scent, vision, water vibrations. Thanks for your question!

  10. How do whales detect plankton when they are so small?

  11. In general, whales do not eat sea turtles. I suppose it is a possibility when turtles are young and small that a dolphin, orca, or other toothed whale might try to eat a turtle if it happens upon it. Turtles are not, however, the usual prey of whales. Thanks for your question.

  12. Do whales eat sea turtles

  13. it helpd me a bite

  14. Thank you, this website helped me on my project. Thnx!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  15. i like baleen whales 🙂

  16. tnx it helped my assignment


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