Whale feeding and throat size

From: Phil Clapham (phillip.clapham@noaa.gov)
Date: Fri Sep 15 2000 - 09:23:29 EDT

Hi Julia:

It's true that baleen whales have small throats - they are generally
only a few inches across. This is because all baleen whales feed on
small things. Some feed on small fish like herring or sand lance,
others on krill (which look like shrimp), and others on small
zooplankton called copepods (about the swize of a rice grain). Some
expansion of the throat probably occurs (one whale biologist estimated
that big whales could expand their gullets to around 10 inches), but not

Sperm whales are a different story. They have much larger throats and
can easily swallow large prey whole. Although the story of Jonah being
swallowed by a whale is hard to believe, if it was true the only whale
that COULD have swallowed him isn a sperm whale!

Phil Clapham

> Julia Deming wrote:
> Hi Mr.Clapham,
> I'm learning about whales, and very curious. I've read that baleen
> whales, like fin whales, have a throat the size of a grapefruit. Is
> this true? If so can it stretch to accomodate a larger fish, or would
> the baleen filter that out?
> Also, I'm wondering about Sperm Whales. Do they swallow large fish
> whole or do they bite their food into smaller pieces? Could they, for
> example, swallow a man whole?
> Thank you for your time,
> Julia Deming


Phillip J. Clapham, Ph.D. Large Whale Biology Program Northeast Fisheries Science Center 166 Water Street Woods Hole, MA 02543

tel (508) 495-2316 fax (508) 495-2258 Internet: phillip.clapham@noaa.gov

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