What do Whales Eat? - Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Tiffany Hightower

Tiffany is a certified elementary school teacher. She has a B.A. in English, education certification and a master's degree in education from Central Michigan University.

The ocean contains various whales with different diets. In this lesson, you will learn what causes differences in whales' diets, and the types of creatures that are included in their diets.

Whales and Diet Differences

Whales can be classified by whether they have teeth or baleen. Toothed whales have teeth and include killer whales, dolphins, porpoises, belugas, norwhals, beaked whales and others.

Baleen whales have baleen instead of teeth and include humpback whales, right whales, gray whales, rorquals and others. Baleen is made out of keratin (just like your fingernails) and makes up skinny, hard plates that hang down from the whale's top jaw. There are small spaces between the plates and the ends are frayed to help with filtering food out of the water. As it swims, fish and other creatures get caught in the baleen for the whale to eat

The location of whales in the ocean determines the types of creatures that are available to eat. In addition, their place on the food chain also determines their diet. How they find their food can vary, too.

For example, humpback whales use bubble netting. This is when a whale swims up very quickly from the bottom of the ocean, moving so fast that it creates a trail of swirling bubbles. Fish get caught in these bubbles and the whale can turn around and eat them!

A humpback whale bubble netting
Humpback Whale and Bubble Netting

Some whales also use echolocation to find prey to eat in the ocean. Echolocation is when whales send out noises into the ocean. The noises return signals regarding the location, size and kinds of foods available in their surroundings.

Toothed Whales' Food

One type of toothed whale is the killer whale (or orca). Killer whales are predators near the top of the food chain. They eat sea lions, walruses, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sharks, seabirds, and penguins. Though they can hunt alone, killer whales also hunt in groups called pods to capture and eat large sea creatures, such as other whales. This process can take up to 5 hours, as they bite their prey piece by piece.

Other toothed whales include dolphins, porpoises, belugas, norwhals, beaked whales, and others. Their diets are different from killer whales. Most of these toothed whales eat octopuses, squid, fish, and crustaceans, which are sea animals with shells, such as crabs.

Dolphins eat fish as part their diet.
Dolphin Eating Fish

Baleen Whales' Food

When eating, baleen whales will open their mouths wide to scoop up schools of fish or other animals. The water filters out and the animals are swallowed whole.

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