Feeding Nature
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Whales

What Do Whales Eat?

Whales are the graceful giants of the deep blue sea.  Not only are they the largest animal on earth but also the largest mammals.  These beautiful mammals range from the 600-pound dwarf sperm whale up to the largest, the blue whale, it can weigh up to 200 tons and reach a length of up to 100 feet.  That is nearly as long as a basketball court.

These mammals nurse their young and they are warm blooded.  You can find whales all over the word, in all of the oceans.

What Do Whales Eat?

Whales need to search and hunt for their food.  You get different species of whales and each species has their own personal preference of food. It is quite surprising that some of the largest mammals on earth eat some of the smallest sea creatures on earth. Let’s have a closer look at the whale’s food preferences;

Krill

This little invertebrate is one of the main food sources for baleen whales.  These little creatures live in huge swarms that can weigh anything from 125 million ton to 6 billion tons.  These creatures are merely 2.5 inches long and weigh about 0.035 ounces.  They are found all year in the waters surrounding Antarctica.

Squid

The giant squid is a favourite of the sperm and pilot whales.  These squid and smaller species of squid are found in the depths of the ocean.  The giant squid can grow up to 12m (39 ft), no wonder some whales have battle scars on them.

Plankton

Plankton is a collection of different organisms, they live in large bodies of water and they are unable to swim against a current. There are a very wide variety, but the most popular for whales are the zooplankton (animal plankton).  These plankton make up a large part of a right whale’s diet.

Copepod

These are little crustaceans that can be found in fresh – and saltwater.  These crustaceans can either drift in water and are called planktonic, or they can live on the ocean floor and are called benthic.  Sei – and gray whales favour these crustaceans.

Fish

Whales and dolphins, yes dolphins are also classified as a toothed whale, eat a variety of fish, from the salmon to the halibut, hake, cod, herring, and smelt are also very popular.  Sperm whales might even take on large sharks, skates, or any other larger fish.

Birds And Land Mammals

The orca is one of the most famous whales for it’s daring hunting activities.  Not only do they hunt in water for fish and squid but they also hunt land mammals and birds.  They will attach penguins in water or on land, but seals, walruses and sea otters as well.  They will hit birds resting on the water from below, stun them and then eat them

What Type Of Whales Do You Get?

There are two main types of whale, the toothed whales and the baleen whales.  Besides from the differences in their teeth, baleen whales have two blowholes and toothed whales have one blowhole.  You also get 14 baleen species of whale and the 76 species of toothed whale.

Toothed Whales

Well as the name suggests, these whales have teeth and these whales normally hunt.  Their diet consists of fish, seals and giant squids.  Sperm whales, dolphins, porpoises, and orcas are among the toothed whales.

Baleen Whales

These whales are normally larger than their toothy partners.  Sperm whales are an exception since they are the largest toothed whale.  Included in this category are the humpback-, right-, bowhead-, and the blue whales, just to name a few.  These whales have fringed plates of long, fingernail-like material attached to the upper jaw.  It is called baleen and it is used to filter out krill, tiny shrimp-like creatures.

How Often and How Much Do Whales Eat?

Whales need to eat everyday because they are so huge and need so much food.  During the summer months, the blue whale, which is a baleen whale, can eat up to 4% of their body weight per day.  These whales can eat up to 8,000 lbs of krill each day.   Eating this much krill helps them to store fat for the winter, this fat is known as blubber.

These whales eat 8,000 lbs each day for about 120 days, it is estimated that the blue whale’s stomach can take 2,200 lbs of food to fill it.

Grey whales eat upto 340,000 lbs during their feeding period of 130 to 140 days, that is an average intake of about 2,200 lbs of food per day. The whale gains about 16% to 30% of their body weight during this feeding season.

Toothed whales are hunters, they chase and capture their prey.  The Sperm whale, a toothed whale,  eats squid and can dive up to 3,280 feet in search of these deep water squids.  They can eat about a ton of squid and fish per day.

What Types Of Food Do Whales Eat?

Toothed Whales

As mentioned above toothed whales are hunters.  Depending on the species they hunt squid, fish, penguins, birds, seals, and sea lions.  Orca’s might even attack smaller whale species as well.  Smaller whales will even eat crabs, starfish, fish, and other ocean creatures.  Once these whales have captured their prey they will swallow it whole.

Baleen Whales

Baleen whales are some of the largest whales and yet they eat some of the smallest sea creatures.  The diets variety from species.  Right whales, for example, eat zooplankton.  Rorqual whales eat krill and small fish.  Grey whales eat amphipods and marine worms.

Do All Whales Eat Krill?

No not all whales eat krill.  It is only baleen whales that eat krill, plankton and other marine organisms.  Their food sources are very small so the baleens help to filter the food from the water before swallowing their food.

Whales with teeth will find it very difficult to eat this food source as they wont have any way to catch or filter the food from the water.

How Do Whales Locate Their Food?

Toothed Whales

Toothed whales and dolphins use echolocation to‘“see” the seabeds so they can navigate their way and to communicate with other whales.  These mammals also use echolocation to locate their food.  Echolocation makes hunting easier for them when they are diving down deep where there is poor visibility.

Baleen Whales

Scientists are still a bit unsure how baleen whales locate their food source as they don’t use echolocation. Scientists believe that these whales, like humpback and blue whales, use a series of sounds to communicate with other whales about available food sources. Another theory is that these whales listen for fish flatulence.

What Do Whales Eat In Captivity?

Some whales, like the blue whale, are just too big to be kept in captivity but there are some that can be kept in aquariums.  Dolphins, orcas, and belugas are the most popular whales kept in captivity.  These animals are highly intelligent and are often taught to do tricks before being rewarded with food.

They are mainly fed herring, salmon, mackerel, and capelin.  Orcas can eat up to 500 lbs of fish in the wild but in captivity they are fed about 140 to 240 lbs per day.

What Do Whales Calves Eat?

Whales breastfeed their calves but the nursing period depends on the species.  Baleen whales breastfeed for five to seven months and toothed whales for one to three years.  The mother can produce up to 200 liters of milk per day.  Their calves grow really fast, they can gain a 100kg per day, meaning that a calf will need to suckle at least 150 liters of milk.

The milk has a very high-fat content and can reach up to 50% in some species. The consistency of the milk can be compared to that of toothpaste. And it has all the nutrients the calf needs to grow.

Before the calf will fully wean, its mother will teach it how to hunt for food and what foods to eat.  Most whale calves stay with their mother long after they are fully weaned so they can learn everything their mother has to teach them.

Do Whales Eat Humans?

No, whales do not eat people. It is safe to say that whales only survive on krill, squid, fish, seals, walruses, and other marine life. There’s no need for you to worry that you might get eaten while a whale is in the area.  But you should still be careful around these huge animals.  Their tails and swimming patterns can be quite dangerous to humans.