Learn all about wonderful whales, including facts about baleen and toothed whales, where they live, what they eat and how they breathe!
Whales are very large animals that live in the ocean, but they are not fish! Millions of years ago, whales probably walked upon land. As many years passed, the whales changed. Their back legs disappeared and their front legs became flippers! Now they live in the ocean.
Whales are mammals, so they feed milk to their babies and breathe air.
They like each other and live in large groups called "herds." A baby whale is called a "calf."
Whales do not have gills, so they cannot breathe under water. They must come up to the surface of the water to get air. The air is breathed in and out through their "blowhole," which is on their back.
When whales sleep, they stay at the top of the water, with their blowhole above the surface. Sometimes, a whale will swim up to the surface of the water and quickly blow air out of their blowhole, making a fountain of watery mist, called a "blow."
There are two different kinds of whales, the baleen and the toothed whale.
Baleen whales are also called "toothless" whales. Instead of teeth, they have plates made of baleen in their jaws. Baleen is a very hard and strong substance, much like the material that makes animals' horns. Baleen is also called "whalebone."
The baleen plates grow from the whales' upper jawbones. They are from two to 12 feet long and they hang down in stringy pieces. Sea water passes through the baleen and the whales' food gets caught. A kind of plankton called krill is what the baleen whale eats. The biggest baleen whales eat as much as two tons of krill each day!
There are many kinds of baleen whales, including blue, bowhead, Bryde's, fin, gray, humpback, minke, right and sei. The blue whale is the largest, often reaching 100 feet in length. They are the largest animals that have ever lived upon the earth. They are even larger than dinosaurs! Humpback whales are also big, weighing up to 45 tons.
Baleen whales have two nostrils, or blowholes.
Toothed whales have teeth instead of baleen. They include the beluga or white, bottlenose, narwhal, pilot and sperm whales. Dolphins are toothed whales. The famous "killer whale," is really a large dolphin, and they can grow up to 30 feet in length.
Toothed whales eat fish and plants. They have one nostril, or blowhole.
Whales swim by moving their tails up and down and using their flippers, which also help them to turn. Some whales, such as the sei, can swim more than 30 miles per hour.
Flippers of the humpback whale can be as long as 15 feet.
All whales are very noisy. They moan, groan, squeak and sigh to talk to each other. These underwater sounds can travel great distances. Whale are the loudest animals in the world.
Whales "migrate" further than any other animal. Migrating means to move from one area to another.
In the warm summer months, whales feast to build up their blubber and other fat reserves. Then, as the weather and water begin to cool when winter approaches, the whales begin their migration to warmer places. They do not stop to eat, but swim almost constantly, stopping only to rest for short periods of time.
For example, gray whales spend the winter months, from December into February, in the warm water of the Pacific Ocean near Baja California, Mexico. In mid-February they begin to swim north to the Arctic Ocean, Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea and the western part of the Beaufort Sea. They will stay in one of those areas until October, when they start the long swim back to the warmer Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico.
Sometimes, as the whales are migrating, they swim very close to the shore and can be seen "blowing" and jumping out of the water. This jumping is called "breaching." Whale watching is popular in many coastal areas.