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Baleen Whales

Batul Nafisa Baxamusa
Baleen whales are totally different from the toothed whales. These giant creatures are known for many of their unique characteristics. Let us read more about these giants of the Ocean by going through the following article.
All those who have enjoyed watching the 2003 animated movie Finding Nemo, will definitely remember the huge blue whale that engulfed Marlin and Dory. The blue whale, is the largest mammal on the earth ever known to exist. It belongs to the suborder of Baleen whales. These large mammals are the point of discussion in this AnimalSake article.
These are also known as great whales or the whalebone whales. They form the Mysticeti suborder of the Cetacea. What makes these mammals different from other toothed varieties? Well, they lack teeth and have baleen plates that help them filter the water for food! The following paragraphs will contain a few baleen whale facts that will help you learn many interesting information about these giants of the open sea.


These mammals are distinguished from other toothed whales with the help of their baleen plates. The baleen is made of keratin that is the same material that makes up human hair and nails. These baleen plates are continuously growing as the lower edges wear off.
The outer edges are smooth and have a frayed inner edge. This helps in formation of a mat like structure that acts like a strainer when feeding. They have many more different physical characteristics as well as habits. Let's look at these facts in the following sections.

Physical Description

They range in size from the small pygmy whale of about 6 meters to the largest mammal on the earth the blue whale that is about 30 meters in length. They are mammals and belong to the scientific order Cetacea. They have flippers, a horizontally flattened tail, nostrils on top of the head for breathing. The females are larger than the males.
They have two blowholes that cause a blow to form a V-shape. When these whales breed, they breath out a spout of air and water. Their size helps them maintain the body heat and keep away predators. Water helps support their massive weight. Some have a head size that is about 1/4th to 1/3rd their body length.


In summer, baleen whales feed continuously. They feed with their mouth open and taking in huge gulps of water. They have grooves on the outer side of their throat. They tend to expand and help accommodate the huge gulps of water.
When they suck in water, little creatures like plankton, krill, etc. are sucked in through the gaps on the front portion of the baleen. When the whale closes its mouth, the groove on the throat squeezes close.
This causes the water to flow out from the baleen present on the side of the mouth. The tiny krill and plankton remain inside the mouth and the whale feeds on its trapped food.


These whales tend to move around the continental shelf to feed. Many baleen whale species are coastal, that is, remain near the shore. Some even give birth and rear their young in areas of coastal bays and lagoons. There are a few species who love the open seas and remain oceanic.


They are distributed in oceans around the world. Species that are found in oceans around the world include blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus), minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis), and humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae).
The fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) tend to remain in the Gulf of California all year round. Southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) and northern right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) tend to restrict themselves in the southern and northern hemispheres. The ice-cold waters of the Arctic ocean are inhabited by the Bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus).

Life Cycle

They reach sexual maturity by the age of 4 to 11 years depending on different species. In most species, the female mates with the most aggressive and winning male. The females give birth to calves about 11 to 13 months after mating.
The calves are mostly born in warm winters as it helps them survive till their blubber is formed. The calves stay very close to their mothers and move due to the current created by the mother's swimming. Calves have very small, soft baleen plates and suckle milk from the mothers teats present in the belly.
This milk contains high fat content and thus helps the calves grow fast. This high fat milk also helps in developing blubber, especially when the whales migrate back to the Antarctic or Arctic oceans.


There are different types categorized according to their feeding techniques. These different types include:
Also known as swallowers, these whales tend to gulp down a mouthful of water containing plankton and fish. This technique is used in areas of concentrated masses of prey. The whale species that use this technique include fin whales, pygmy blue whales, blue whales, rorquals, Bryde's whale, humpback whales and minke whales.
Skimmers are whales who keep their mouth open and filter food all the while. Types who feed in this way include the bowhead whales and right whales.
Swallowers and Skimmers
Whales who feed either by swallowing or skimming through the sea, include the Sei whales.
Benthic Feeders
Benthic feeders include the bottom feeders. These tend to vacuum the mud on the ocean floor for food. Benthic feeders include the Gray whales.
The 10 types include:
  • Bowhead Whale
  • Northern and Southern Right Whale
  • Pygmy Right
  • Gray Whale
  • Humpback Whale
  • Blue Whale
  • Fin Whale
  • Sei Whale
  • Bryde's Whale
  • Minke Whale
The whales do not harm or threaten any other animal or human. Yet, these are killed by humans for their commercial uses like oil and baleen. The oil helps in making margarine and cooking oils. Baleen is used to make parasol ribs, crease paper and stiffen up corsets.
Apart from this marine pollution, overfishing, climatic changes and loss of food sources is the reason for their dwindling population. These are the largest whales in the world. We have to collectively take steps to prevent these large mammals form getting exit or we may lose the only surviving largest animal to swim in the water on the Earth.