Subject: Baleen in a blue whale

Kim Marshall (kimm@oceanalliance.org)
Thu, 20 May 1999 20:30:47 GMT

>Question:
My name is Jared.  I'm doing a research report for my third grade class.
>What I would like to know is:  If a blue whale, when eating, uses its baleen
>to filter fish and krill out of the water, how does it get the fish and krill
>out of its baleen and into its stomach??  Is there more than one row of
>baleen in its mouth?  Does it use its tongue to lick the fish and krill off
>the baleen once it spits out the water it takes into its mouth  to capture
>them?   If baleen is black bone and comb-shaped, is it hard or soft?  I'm
>confused and would like to be able to answer these questions in my report.
>
Reply:
Dear Jared,
A baleen plate is kind of triangle-shaped and thin.  It is made of the same
protein (called keratin) as snake skin, horses' hooves and your own hair
and fingernails.  The plate is thick enough to be stiff, though not
extremely hard.  Each plate has a hairy edge and a smooth straight edge.
The plate hangs from the upper jaw of the whale and the hairy edge faces
into the mouth, while the other edge points out of the mouth.  The whale
has several hundred of these plates lined up next to each other (making one
long row), with all of the hairy edges facing toward the tongue.  When a
whale takes in a huge gulp of water and food, it closes its mouth and then
uses its tongue, the muscles in its throat, and the pressure of the water
outside of the throat to push the water through its baleen plates and out
of the mouth.  The food gets trapped on the hairy edges, and then the whale
uses its tongue to get the food off of its baleen and into its stomach.
Hope this clears up the confusion.

Also be sure to search WhaleNet for other information on blue whales! Thank
you, Kim

Kim Marshall-Tilas
Whale Conservation Institute/Ocean Alliance
191 Weston Road
Lincoln, MA  01773
(781) 259-0423
fax: 259-0288
website: http://www.oceanalliance.org