Do All Whales Have Teeth?

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The short answer to this question is no; not all whales have teeth. There are actually two different suborders of whales that are distinguished by their presence or lacking presence of teeth: Baleen whales and toothed whales. Baleen whales and toothed whales are very different on multiple levels including their species size, blowholes and biology, how they feed, and more. We will walk through the main differences between Baleen whales and Toothed whales to give you an idea of their overall differences.  

Species

Baleen whales have 14-15 species, whereas toothed whales have around 70-73 species. The reason why Toothed whales have so many more species is because they also include dolphins and porpoises as well. Below are the different types of whales in each classification.

Baleen Whales

  • Blue Whale
  • Fin Whale
  • Sei Whale
  • Bryde’s Whales
  • Omura’s Whale
  • Humpback Whale
  • Gray Whale
  • Common Minke Whale
  • Antarctic Minke Whale
  • Bowhead Whale
  • North Atlantic Right Whale
  • North Pacific Right Whale
  • Southern Right Whale
  • Pygmy Right Whale

Toothed Whales

  • Sperm Whale
  • Killer Whale (Orca whale)
  • Strap-toothed Whale
  • Northern Bottlenose Whale
  • Beluga Whale
  • Short-finned Pilot Whale
  • Narwhal
  • Dolphins
  • Porpoises

Anatomy

Toothed whales are obviously named for their presence of teeth. Baleen whales, however, have what are referred to as baleen plates in their gums along each whale’s upper jaw. The Toothed whale with the biggest full set of teeth is the sperm whale who has around 40 to 52 cone-shaped teeth, that are 4-8 inches in length. Although all toothed whales have teeth – the number, size and position of their teeth varies from species to species.

The baleen is actually made out of keratin, which is the same protein that makes up human hair and fingernails. Hundreds of overlapping baleen plates grow downwards from the roof of the whale’s mouth, like curtains. The baleen is strong and flexible, and its size and color are unique for every whale species.

The other major difference in anatomy between the Baleen and Toothed whales are their blowholes. Baleen whales have two blowholes, whereas Toothed whales have one.

Size

Baleen whales are significantly larger than toothed whales. Within the Baleen species specifically, female whales are larger than males in the same species. The largest Baleen species is the Blue whale, which is actually the largest animal on the planet. The largest Toothed whale is the Sperm whale.

Diet

Toothed whales are hunters. They find, chase and then capture prey (fish, squid, crabs, starfish, octopus, and other ocean creatures) with their teeth. Baleen whales eat some of the smallest, most abundant life in the oceans: plankton. Some baleen whales also eat small schooling fishes, and a variety of crustaceans such as krill, copepods, and amphipods.

Feed

Toothed whales actually use echolocation to find their food, which works as a navigation to detect prey in the water. The way echolocation works is the whale sends out ultrasounds from its nasal passage which then signals echoes off objects, and return to the whale, giving a clear picture of the objects’ size, shape and location.

Many baleen whales swim with their mouths wide open to take in huge amount of water. After taking in the water in their mouths, they filter the water out through their baleen, which in turn, keeps the plankton and other food in their mouths. After all the ocean water has left the mouth, the whale swallows its meal.  Although all Baleen whales are all essentially filter feeders, their feeding techniques can vary slightly among species. For example, Bowhead and Right whales feed by skimming along with their mouths half open, whereas Humpback and Blue whales feed with their mouths all the way open. Grey whales, on the other hand, swim on their sides along the bottom of the ocean floor and take in mud and water and use their baleen to filter out crustaceans from the muddy water.

Unforgettable Whale Watching Experience with Harbor Breeze

If you are intrigued by whales as much as we are, you will love a whale watching tour with our team. For decades, we have been guiding unforgettable whale watching tours in the Long Beach area that the entire family will remember for years to come. Contact us today to reserve your spot on our next excursion!

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