What do whales eat?

Baleen whales feed on plankton, krill and microscopic crustaceans.

Whales are divided into two suborders – toothed whales and baleen whales – and each eats very different types of food. Toothed whales eat fish, squid and other animals, while baleens eat plankton, krill and other small creatures. Some studies have also suggested that human activities may have influenced the whales’ feeding habits and the whales’ diet, judging by analyzes of historical evidence and studies of modern whales.

Some toothed whales feed on squid.

Toothed whales, like killer whales and pilot whales, are equipped with large teeth, as their name implies. These whales have a diet that includes fish, squid, and marine mammals such as seals. Some species eat other whales and dolphins. In the case of killer whales, also known as orcas, the animals often work cooperatively to take down prey much larger than themselves. Researchers have even documented cases of killer whales chasing blue whales, the largest mammals on Earth.

Whales eat a variety of foods and their diets may have been affected by humans.

Baleen whales are filter feeders that eat things like plankton, copepods, small fish and krill. They filter food through a comb-like structure known as a fin. Blue whales, minke whales and right whales are some examples. Gray whales filter sediment on the ocean floor to access the tiny creatures that live there. Blue whales can eat up to 8,000 pounds (3,600 kg) of food every day during the season, when they feed to store energy reserves for the winter. In the winter months, animals survive on their fat.

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Humpbacks are one of the many species of whales that feed on plankton.

Energy stored in the form of fat is common to many marine mammals. In addition to being a source of energy when food is difficult to obtain, blubber also provides insulation that protects whales from extremely cold waters, allowing them to travel to extreme latitudes. Fat is also of historical interest to humans as a fuel source; Whaling was once a worldwide industry that generated huge profits, mainly from the sale of this fabric.

A blue whale can eat 3,000 pounds of food a day to store reserves for the winter.

Studies to determine what whales eat can be done in a number of ways. Historically, anecdotal evidence from whalers has been used to learn more about the diet of whales. In the modern era, researchers can comb through whale droppings to extract mitochondrial DNA, which reveals the identity of the organisms the whale ate. This method was promoted by researchers who don’t want to kill whales to learn more about them.

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