Baleen Whale Surfacing


The order Cetacea is broken into two suborders – the toothed whales (which include dolphins) and the baleen whales. There are at least 20 species of whales and dolphins reported from the Gulf of Mexico. Only one of those is a baleen whale, the Rice’s Whale. The toothed-whales and dolphins have conical canine teeth. Baleen whales have a fibrous hair-like material in their upper jaw that is stiff like the bristles of a toothbrush called baleen. The whale swallows seawater and then pushes it through the baleen trapping small shrimp and fish which they lick down their throats.


Whale Baleen Close Up

Whales are known for their long migrations. Their thick blubber and large size allow them to survive in polar waters where much of their food is found. However, their babies are not prepared for such cold waters. The female must migrate to tropical waters to give birth and fatten the baby up with some of the richest milk in the mammal group.


Whales use sound, the Earth’s magnetic field, and their vision for navigation. Whales produce very low frequency sounds that can travel thousands of miles, echoing off objects that may be familiar to them. They also have magnetite in their retinas that allow them to pick up the Earth’s magnetic field, much the same as a compass does. Whales engage in spy hopping where a whale stops, turns vertical in the water, and extends its head above the surface. Scientists believe it is in fact checking landmarks to aid with navigation.


Sperm Whale

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