Do whales eat plankton or krill??

From: Phil Clapham (
Date: Thu Sep 05 2002 - 08:59:30 EDT

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    It depends on which whale you're talking about. There are around a
    dozen or so species of large whales, and their diets vary a lot. The
    only large whale with teeth, the sperm whale, feeds on squid and other
    deep-water prey. The others all have baleen (a filtration system kind
    of like a huge sieve in the mouth). Baleen whales include (among
    several others) the blue, fin, humpback, gray, right and bowhead whales.

    Some baleen whales feed on true plankton. Right whales are plankton
    feeders, taking tiny animals called copepods which are about the size of
    a grain of rice; they eat huge quantities of these animals, which are
    among the most abundant food in the ocean and are found in dense
    patches. Gray whales often feed on benthic amphipods, critters that
    live in the mud on the sea floor. Other baleen whales (like humpbacks
    and fin whales) feed on small schooling fish (herring, sand lance,
    capelin etc) as well as on krill.

    Krill is the common name for what we call euphausiids, which look rather
    like shrimp. In the southern hemisphere, baleen whales feed largely on
    krill, which is the most abundant food resource in the Southern Ocean.
    In the northern hemisphere, many baleen whales will eat either krill or
    fish depending on where they are and what's available. Blue whales are
    unique in that they feed pretty much exclusively on krill (they've
    occasionally been seen feeding on other things, but krill is clearly the
    greater part of their diet).

    Phil Clapham

    Sabra wrote:
    > Hi, I've heard that whales eat plankton but I've also heard that they
    > eat krill. What do they eat?


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

    tel. 508 495-2316 fax 508 495-2066 email:

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