What do whales eat? You may be surprised to learn that these beautiful marine animals feed on a variety of sources including plankton, krill, and sometimes fish or squid. In this post, we will dive into what exactly makes up the diet of whales and how they obtain their food in order to survive.
Here’s the answer: What do whales eat?
Whales’ diet consists mostly of tiny organisms that are found in the ocean such as plankton, krill, and small fish or squid. While some species may consume larger prey items such as seals or sea lions, these incidents are rare. Whales often feed on what is available in their environment which means they can feast on a variety of sources depending on what is available in their area.
Plankton is microscopic organisms that drift through the ocean, and this is what most of the whale’s diet consists of. Krill are shrimp-like crustaceans that are also found in the ocean, but they are usually slightly larger than plankton.
Smaller whale species tend to feed mostly on krill, while larger whales may consume more of both plankton and krill. Whales can also eat small fish or squid when they are available, but these make up a much smaller part of their diet overall.
Whales have a unique method of obtaining food. They use what is known as “filter-feeding” which involves taking in large amounts of water and then filtering out what is edible. This can happen either by swimming forward with their mouths wide open or in some cases by creating a vortex to suck up what they need from the water.
What do baleen whales eat?
Baleen whales, such as the blue, humpback, and gray, have comb-like structures in their mouths called baleen plates, which they use to filter their food. They feed on small organisms like krill and tiny fish, swallowing huge mouthfuls of seawater and then pushing the water back out, leaving only their food trapped in the baleen.
See our article What Do Humpback Whales Eat? to understand more about Humpback Whales’ diet.
How do baleen whales forage?
Baleen whales are masterful foragers, using their impressive filtering system to sieve through vast amounts of water in search of their preferred prey. With a mouth wide open, they scoop up immense amounts of water, only to close it, forcing the water out and leaving a concentrated batch of small animals, like krill and copepods, trapped by the baleen plates in their mouths.
These gentle giants then swallow their bounty in one swift gulp, savoring their feast with a contented sigh. It’s a sight to behold, watching them glide through the water with grace and ease, as they methodically gather their next meal.
In addition to filter feeding, some baleen whales use a technique named bubble netting. By working together, up to several baleen whales form an encircling formation and blow bubbles around the group of their prey, thereby herding them into one place and propelling them toward the surface. Once the fish have been herded, the whales will take turns feasting on their defenseless prey.
What do toothed whales eat?
Toothed whales, as their name implies, are equipped with sharp teeth that they use to capture their prey. These whales have a diverse diet, but they primarily feed on a variety of seafood, such as fish and squid, and in some cases, even seals and sea lions. Each species of toothed whale has its own unique hunting style and preferences for certain types of prey.
For example, a killer whale, also known as an orca, is a top predator and will eat just about anything it wants, including seals, sea lions, and even other whales. Their hunting style is often described as being clever and calculating, as they work together as a team to bring down their prey.
The sperm whale, on the other hand, is known to dive to great depths in search of giant squid, which they then bite into chunks to consume. The sperm whale is the only species of whale known to feed on giant squid and their deep-diving capabilities allow them to access areas of the ocean where these elusive creatures reside.
How do toothed whales forage?
Toothed whales, unlike their baleen cousins, are the predators of the sea, using their sharp teeth to hunt and capture their prey. These sleek hunters are equipped with echolocation, a remarkable ability that allows them to locate their prey with precision.
They use a series of clicks and echoes to form a mental image of their surroundings, zeroing in on their next meal with ease. And when the moment is right, they strike with lightning speed, capturing fish, squid, and other small animals in their powerful jaws.
It’s a thrilling dance, this hunt for food, as they navigate the depths with agility, always on the lookout for their next meal. They are truly the masters of the sea, and their foraging skills are a testament to the incredible adaptations that have allowed them to thrive in this challenging environment.
How much do whales eat per day?
It’s quite impressive to think about just how much these giants of the ocean can consume in a single day! Depending on the species, whales can eat anywhere from hundreds of pounds to a whopping 3,000 pounds of food per day! For example, a blue whale, the largest mammal on earth, can consume up to 4 tons of krill and tiny fish each day!
Meanwhile, a sperm whale, known for hunting giant squid, might only consume around 500 pounds of food in a day. Whales have to consume large amounts of food in order to stay healthy and active. For this reason, they often travel vast distances in search of food sources that can provide them with what they need.
It’s truly remarkable to consider the massive appetites of these magnificent creatures, and how they manage to find enough food in the vast ocean to sustain themselves.
How many times do whales eat per day?
When it comes to the feeding habits of whales, one size definitely doesn’t fit all. Depending on the species and their size, a whale’s eating schedule can range from several times a day to once every few days.
Baleen whales, such as blue, humpback, and right whales, feed relatively infrequently and might only eat once a day. On the other hand, toothed whales, like orcas and sperm whales, are much more voracious eaters and hunt more frequently to maintain their energy levels. They hunt down seals, fish, and squid and might go hunting several times a day.
But it’s not just the species that affect a whale’s eating habits; their feeding routines can also change with the seasons. For example, some whales migrate to different areas in search of more food sources, allowing them to feed more frequently or less often, depending on the availability of their preferred prey.
Do whales eat humans?
No, whales do not eat humans. Whales are filter feeders and predators who mainly eat small organisms such as krill, squid, and fish. They are not interested in human flesh and will generally avoid contact with humans at all costs. Despite what some myths may say, there is no record of any whale ever eating a human being.
See our article Are whale sharks dangerous? to understand more about Do whales eat humans?
In conclusion, what do whales eat? They feed on plankton, krill, and sometimes small fish or squid depending on what is available in their environment.
Their impressive size requires them to consume a lot of food each day, and whales often have to travel vast distances in search of what they need. Baleen whales typically feed less frequently than their toothed counterparts, who might go hunting several times a day for what they need. And no matter what species you are looking at, there is no record of any whale ever eating a human being.
The feeding habits of whales are truly remarkable, and the incredible adaptations that have allowed them to thrive in the ocean for so long are a testament to the wonders of nature.
See our article Why do whales jump out of the water? to understand more about their habit.