Baleen Whales Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jennifer Lowery

Jennifer has taught elementary levels K-3 and has master's degrees in elementary education and curriculum/instruction and educational leadership.

Baleen whales are a group of twelve different species of whales. In this lesson, learn about the physical features of baleen whales, find out what they eat and where they live, and learn some cool facts about these giant marine animals.

Baleen Family

When you think of large animals, you might have visions of elephants or hippos. But even those large animals can't compete with the animal group of baleen whales. These are the largest animals on the planet, and there are twelve different species of baleen whales. Some of the whales included in this group are blue, gray, and humpback whales. Baleen whales can be found in every ocean on the planet.

The humpback whale belongs to the baleen whale group.
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Marine Mammals

Baleen whales are mammals, which means that they are warm-blooded and breathe air using their lungs. That sounds interesting considering that they live in ocean waters, but they have two blowholes at the top of their body that allow them to breathe when they reach the surface of the water.

As mammals, they also give birth to a live animal, called a whale calf. Unlike humans, who can take around one year to learn how to walk, whale calves are born already able to swim.

Plates and Diet

When you eat dinner, it is probably on a plate, right? Baleen whales use plates to eat too, but not in the same way that you do. These whales have baleen plates in their mouths which, as you might guess is why they are called baleen whales. These plates are very long and narrow, and hang down in the in the whale's mouth. They are made of a protein material that is actually very similar to something on your body - your fingernails.

Baleen plates help to capture small ocean animals like shrimp or fish.
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So why do they have these plates? Let's travel to your kitchen to learn more. Have you ever used a strainer when cooking pasta? This is kind of how baleen plates work. The baleen whale gets a big gulp of ocean water, full of yummy snacks like small fish and shrimp. They then close the plates, and the water flows through but the snacks get caught, just like your pasta stays in place but the water goes through the strainer. Now the whale has only a mouthful of food!

Whale Adaptations

Is it hard to imagine how the world's largest mammal can swim in ocean waters? Baleen whales actually swim easily thanks to very strong tail flukes. This is a tail that kind of acts like a paddle, and can push the large mammal forward in the water. They also have a layer of blubber that gives them energy to move their large bodies.

Blubber gives a gray whale energy, and its tail fluke helps it to swim in ocean waters.
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