What do whales eat?

The huge feeds on the smallest - so you can say of the whales. Because whales eat plankton - a kind of living suspension of tiny organisms floating in the water column. But this is only true of toothless, or baleen, whales. Toothed whales have completely different food preferences. The notorious killer whales have gained fame as ruthless killers, and the sperm whale is able to grapple with the inhabitant of the depths - a giant squid, defeat it and eat it.

Feeding calves

Whales are mammals. Females feed their young with thick and high-calorie milk, half of fat and protein. Cetacean milk is creamy in color, similar in consistency to a paste, does not spread in water.

The feeding process takes place under water. A newborn whale must have time to eat and breathe at the same time. He captures the nipple for about 5-6 seconds, the female by contraction of muscles sends a stream of milk into the mouth of the offspring, he takes a sip and immediately floats up to inhale air. "Gymnastics" continues throughout the entire period of milk feeding - this is how a little whale trains the skill of holding its breath. A blue whale calf drinks up to 200 liters of milk per day. Whales start feeding on their own rather late - for example, the sperm whale remains a "baby" for 13 months.

Two types of food

All whales descended from a common ancestor - mesonychium. 50 million years ago, this strange creature, similar to a hoofed wolf, lived along the sea coasts, hunted for fish and small amphibians. In search of food, the mesonychia swam farther and farther, and less and less often came ashore, from where they were chased away by land predators.

Evolution was quietly doing its job - unnecessary hind limbs disappeared, cartilaginous blades on the tail grew, and the front legs turned into flippers. At some point, the whales split into two branches - baleen (Mysticeti) and toothed (Odontoceti). Some began to graze peacefully on the ocean expanses, filtering out plankton, while others turned into fearless and impetuous hunters.

Baleen whales

Baleen whales are called "filter-feeders" for a specific way of feeding that is not found in other warm-blooded animals. Instead of teeth, they have whalebone plates descending from the upper jaw and assembled into a kind of "blinds" on the sides of the mouth. The edge of the plates, facing inward, is provided with a thick fringe. The tongue of baleen whales is well developed, mobile and adapted to pull a mass of small prey down the throat. The head of a filter whale occupies up to a third of the total length of its body, and the lower jaw is shaped like a bucket. The blue whale catches and sends about 50 kg of krill into its stomach at one time, and its daily ration is 6-8 tons.


Not a single krill...

Seiwal, aka willow whale, is not content with plankton alone. Seiwals collectively attack schools of sardines, pollock and other fish, confuse them with blows of their tail and consume them. The same fate befell flocks of small squids.

The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is the most versatile hunter among the minke whales. In warm seas, where there is a lot of plankton, the humpback eats like an ordinary filter-feeder. But in northern waters, the humpback whale's diet changes dramatically - it turns into an ichthyophage. Capelin, saury, herring and other schooling fish become its prey. A flock of humpbacks acts harmoniously, using rather complex hunting techniques.

Toothed whales

Unlike baleen whales, which swallow their prey in bulk, toothed whales grab their prey one by one. The sperm whale and bottlenose feed on cephalopods. Small toothed whales mainly eat fish. Killer whales hunt warm-blooded animals - penguins, seals, their flocks attack large whales and tear them apart. In English, a killer whale is called a killer whale, that is, a killer whale.

Killer whale - a storm of seals

Sperm whale catch

The most impressive representative of toothed whales is the sperm whale. A mature male reaches 20 meters in length and weighs 50 tons. The prey of the sperm whale matches the hunter - giant squids of the genus Architeuthis, living at depths below 500 m.

While diving in search of food, the sperm whale is able to hold its breath for up to one and a half hours. The maximum proven diving depth of this whale is 2 km. Sunlight does not penetrate such a column of water, so the sperm whale searches for prey using echolocation. Loud clicks emitted by it muffle squids and disorient them in space. But even a stunned giant squid is a dangerous contender, especially for females and young whales.

Sperm whale and giant squid. Diorama at the Museum of Natural History, USA

Although the sperm whale fights with the kraken, it is not hard to guess that the whale almost always comes out victorious. In the stomachs of sperm whales, whole heaps of "beaks" (squid jaws) are found. The skin of an adult whale is dotted with circles - battle scars from cephalopod suckers.

Not finding squid nearby, the sperm whale hunts other bottom inhabitants. Those who are hiding (octopuses, stingrays and others) are scared away by the whale, furrowing the silt with its lower jaw, which can open at a right angle. Nature has provided the sperm whale with a cunning bait - the white skin around its mouth is inhabited by phosphorescent bacteria. Deep-sea creatures willingly swim into the light - and go directly to the sperm whale for lunch.

Sperm whale against the cable

Sometimes echolocation fails the sperm whale - it takes the underwater communication cable for the tentacles of the squid. The whale acts as usual: it clings to the "tentacle" and begins to rotate rapidly around its axis, trying to unscrew it. The giant's fate is sealed - entangled in the cable, he suffocates. In the late 1960s, 14 cases of sperm whale attacks on underwater communications were recorded at once. Apparently, the "mass attack" was caused by a lack of familiar food.