Whales feed in Gulf of Maine water and breed in Caribbean waters. Baleen whales ("mustached whales") have plates of baleen, made of the same material as our fingernails, hanging like broom bristles from their upper jaws. The baleen sieves plankton, krill, and small fish from sea water. The whale's flabby tongue squeezes water through the baleen and then licks the plankton off the baleen. Ten species of whales are baleen whales, including the largest animal that ever lived, the blue whale. The right whale, humpback whale, fin whale, minke whale, and sei whale are all baleen whales.

Toothed whales use their teeth to grasp their prey, but don't chew their food. They eat fish, squid, and in some cases, other marine mammals. Toothed whales include the sperm whale (Moby Dick was one), orca (killer whale), pilot whale, narwhal, and dolphin.

Find out which prey toothed and baleen whales are best at catching

  1. Fill the baking dish with water.
  2. Add carrots and parsley flakes to the water, explaining that they represent fish (such as herring, capelin, or cod) and krill (a shrimp-like creature which occurs in huge concentrations in cold oceans).
  3. Let students experiment with the tongs and the comb to see which kind of prey each harvests more efficiently.
  4. Discuss the following:

Which tool represents toothed whales? (tongs) Baleen whales?

Is baleen more effective at picking up krill or fish? Why?

For which foods are teeth more effective?

A medium-sized blue whale weighing 100 tons probably eats up to 4 tons of krill a day. What does this suggest about the efficiency of baleen as a feeding mechanism?

Materials

  • 9 x 12 baking dish
  • comb
  • tongs
  • parsley flakes ("krill")
  • carrot slices ("fish")
  • water