Subject: Chewing and toothed whales

Phil Colla (
Tue, 17 Feb 1998 14:48:03 -0800

>Why don't toothed whales use their teeth for chewing?

I suppose this depends on how you define chewing.  If you mean
chewing in the sense that we chew gum, then no, toothed whales
really do not "chew."  Their teeth must serve two purposes:
1) to grasp prey and 2) to tear it apart into managable pieces.
Both of these functions require pointed or conical-type teeth,
which can pierce (for grasping) and tear flesh.  Neither of these
functions is consistent with "chewing".

Humans are fortunate enough to have two types of teeth -- incisors
for grasping and tearing, and molars for chewing.  Odontocetes
(toothed cetaceans) only have what can be thought of as incisors.

Sharks are similar to toothed whales in they also do not have
teeth for "chewing", only for grasping and tearing.  (Excluding
filter-feeding and other exotic sharks.)

Since toothed whales focus on grasping and tearing prey, some of what
they capture is torn to small pieces and goes to waste.  I have filmed
headless octopus in the Azores -- the heads and some tentacles were
bitten off and eaten by sperm whales, while much of the body tore off
and was cast aside.

Phil Colla

Phil Colla,
Humpback Whales: