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.