Humpback Anatomy: Do Humpback Whales Have Teeth?

do humpback whales have teeth

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Humpback whales are some of the most extraordinary animals on the earth. They can grow between 15 – 16m in length and weigh an impressive 25,000 – 30,000kg.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at the humpback whale’s dental affairs, or more specifically lack thereof. Do humpback whales have teeth?

In a nutshell, no they do not. Humpback whales are baleen whales, which means instead of teeth they have baleen plates to filter out their food.

Let’s take a closer look…

Do Humpback Whales Actually Have Teeth?

Humpback whales do not have teeth in the traditional sense, instead, they have baleen plates that hang down from their top jaw.

There are 14 species of baleen whales including the humpback. Baleen is made of keratin, which is the same as what our human fingernails are made from.

It hangs down from each side of the humpback whale’s jaw and traps food such as krill, shrimp, and other crustaceans when the humpback feeds.

When humpback whales feed, they take large mouthfuls of water. Below their mouth, they have 12 – 36 throat grooves that expand to allow them to hold water.

They trap food in their mouths and expel water from the two blowholes that are located on the whale’s back.

Do Humpback Whales Have Sharp Teeth?

Humpback whales do not have sharp teeth. They are baleen whales which means they do not have teeth at all, and instead have baleen plates.

This species of whale are filter feeders, which means they don’t need sharp teeth to kill large prey like some other marine animals.

They feed on small crustaceans such as krill, shrimp, and plankton, therefore don’t require sharp teeth.

The baleen is not sharp, but the plates are frayed which helps to trap prey on it. Baleen feels like the coarse bristles of a scrub brush, so it’s not soft either.

What Do Humpback Whales Feed On?

Given that humpback whales have no teeth, they are unable to feed on large prey, and instead rely on small crustaceans that can be easily swallowed and digested.

A humpback whale’s diet primarily consists of krill, shrimp, copepods, squid, small fish, and other crustaceans.

The humpback whale is actually one of the more diverse eaters of the baleen whale family. They will also eat herring, mackerel, salmon, capelin, haddock, and other fish.

Humpback calves feed exclusively on milk from their mothers until they reach an age where they are able to hunt food and survive on their own.

How To Humpback Whales Hunt For Food?

Humpback whales are fascinating and intelligent hunters. They typically dive below their target and use a series of high-pitch calls to force their prey to the surface.

Once at the surface, the whales concentrate on them by releasing columns of air bubbles. These bubbles act as a barrier, as the fish will not swim through them.

The humpback whales coordinate their bubbles to surround their food, and once surrounded the pod leader emits a sound that signals all of the whales to surface at the same time with their mouths open.

This is a highly effective way for multiple humpbacks to hunt and feed at once.

If a humpback is hunting solo, it will swim at large schools of krill or other crustaceans with its large mouth wide open.

Its mouth expands so that the whale can take huge mouthfuls of water at a time, and then the whale forces out the water from its blowhole and filters its food using its baleen.

What Are Baleen Plates?

Baleen is a filter-feeding system that allows baleen whales to catch their food in their mouth without using teeth.

Baleen whales have baleen plates that hang from the whale’s top jaw. They are made of keratin, which is the same protein that human hair and fingernails are made from.

Baleen resembles the teeth of a fine comb, trapping anything that the whale takes into its mouth whilst the whale removes the water.

It’s an effective feeding system that allows the whale to trap often hundreds/thousands of small crustaceans each time the whale opens its mouth.

Baleen whales have evolved from their toothed ancestors. The number of baleen as well as the color of the plates each whale has differs depending on the species of whale.

Final Thoughts

Do humpback whales have teeth? No, they do not. Humpback whales are baleen whales which means instead of teeth, they have baleen plates used for filter feeding.

The baleen is used to trap and entangle food such as krill and other shrimp-like crustaceans like the teeth of a fine comb.

From there, the humpback whale is able to remove the mouthful of water and then swallow the food.

It’s a pretty impressive feeding system that has evolved with the humpback whale and other baleen whales over many years.

Hopefully, you’ve learned something new today about the humpback whale and how they use baleen to feed.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post and feel free to stick around to learn more about the humpback whale.