WHAT IS BALEEN?

Princess Monterey Whale Watching

Baleen Whale

A baleen whale, which includes humpback whales, gray whales, blue whales, fin whales and right whales, as opposed to toothed whales, use a filter-feeder system inside their mouths made of baleen. It is made mostly of keratin, a strong, yet flexible material that is also found in our own fingernails and hair. Baleen bristles are arranged in plates across the upper jaw of a whale and can range in length from 1.6 to 11.5 feet long and weigh up to 200 pounds!

These whales are some of the largest animals on earth, but eat some of the smallest food – plankton, krill and small fish. Just like a human, whales cannot drink saltwater, so they use their mouth to capture their food and their baleen to filter out the water.

Some baleen whales feed by swimming with their mouths wide open (like right whales) while others open their mouths and take in huge amounts of water, which can be seen in lunge feeding, such as humpbacks. When they close their mouths, the water is forced out through their baleen (filter-feeder system), and food gets trapped in the fringe which the whales then swallow. Some whales eat about one ton (2,000 pounds) of food each day!

When you’re out on Monterey Bay, keep a look out for a heart shaped blow caused by two blowholes, which all these whales have, and you just might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of them lunge feeding!

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