What is a baleen and toothed whale

Filter or Bite?

About 90 species of whales live in the world's seas today. Since Carl von Linné and his “Systema naturae” in 1758 at the latest, they have been divided into two large groups by the whale and whale whales, the baleen whales and the toothed whales.

Baleen whales

A typical feature of the baleen whales are hundreds of horn-like plates on each side of the upper jaw, which in some species reach a length of almost five meters. These so-called beards form an effective filter device with which microorganisms such as krill are sifted out of the water.

Right whales like the bowhead whale or the northern right whale swim leisurely with their mouths open through the huge schools of krill in the sea water to acquire food. The continuously flowing water flows off laterally through the beards and the food remains "stuck" in the beards. When enough food has settled down, the whale finally licks the microorganisms off with its tongue.

Furrow whales, including blue and fin whales, on the other hand, suck a huge mix of water and food particles into their mouths in one go. The sea water is then pressed out again through the beard, krill and other plankton organisms remain in the filter apparatus.

Another feature is typical for all baleen whales: In contrast to the toothed whales, the two nostrils of the baleen whales open out separately - they therefore have two injection holes for inhaling and exhaling.

Toothed whales

Toothed whales have up to 272 uniform, partly razor-sharp teeth instead of the beards, with which they hunt prey, mainly fish, squid, seals and other whales. Within the toothed whales, however, the quality of the dentition is very different. In some species, the teeth are even completely regressed, with the exception of minor relics.

In contrast to humans, there are no milk teeth in toothed whales, the teeth have to last a lifetime.

The most famous toothed whales include the various dolphins, the killer whale, the pilot whale and the famous beluga whale. The largest and perhaps most famous of all toothed whales, however, is the sperm whale, which can reach a length of up to 20 meters.


Status: October 7, 2001

October 7, 2001