Fascinating Facts About Humpback Whales’ Teeth

Ever pondered if Humpback Whales have teeth? This blog post will take you on a thrilling journey into the world of these colossal sea beings.

We will explore the intriguing details of baleen plates, examining their unique role in the humpback’s feeding mechanism and how they differ from the teeth of other whales.

Our discussion will also uncover the mystery of their continuously regenerating baleen plates.

The understanding of their diet will offer insights into the survival strategies of marine life.

Ready to dive into the depths of oceanic knowledge with us?

Do Humpback Whales Have Teeth?

Contrary to what you might think, humpback whales, despite being mammals, are completely toothless. Their unique solution? Baleen plates. These sturdy, flexible structures, each around 20 inches long, hang from their upper jaws, with each whale boasting 270-400 on each side.

Baleen plates, composed of keratin – the stuff our hair, skin, and nails are made of – aren’t for biting or chewing. No, their role is far more interesting: they’re the whale’s filtration system.

Here’s how it works. The humpback whale gulps in water, krill, and fish. Upon closing its mouth, the water is expelled through the blowhole while the food is trapped, thanks to the baleen plates. Think of it as a sort of biological sieve, where the whale’s tongue pushes against the upper jaw, forcing the water through the baleen. Caught in the crosshairs? Their next meal.

What Are Baleen Plates?

Humpback whales boast a unique dental system, not in the form of teeth, but rather baleen plates. These sturdy, flexible constructs are keratin-based, the same protein found in human hair, skin, and nails.

Functioning as an internal sieve, these plates filter food from seawater, similar to Venetian blinds. Their dimensions differ with each whale species, adding an extra layer of intrigue.

Now, let’s dive deeper into the baleen plate specifics:

  1. Length and Weight: Baleen plates vary from 0.5 to 3.5 meters in length and can tip the scales at 90 kilograms.
  2. Number: A humpback whale’s upper jaw houses between 270 to 400 overlapping baleen.
  3. Size: On average, a humpback’s individual baleen plate measures 20 inches.
  4. Flexibility: Baleen tips bend inward, ensuring the whale’s ability to close its mouth smoothly.

With these adaptations, humpback whales take their feeding efficiency to unprecedented heights. Quite impressive, wouldn’t you say?

How Do Humpback Whales Use Their Baleen Plates for Feeding?

Humpback whales are, quite frankly, clever eaters. Using their baleen plates—keratin structures that resemble a hair mat—they filter feed efficiently. Picture it: they gulp down vast amounts of water, teeming with small fish or krill. Then, like a massive sieve, the water is forced back out through the baleen, leaving only the tasty morsels behind.

These whales sport an impressive 270 to 400 baleen plates, each about 20 inches long. Like a set of Venetian blinds, these plates—located on the upper jaw—fit so snugly together, it’s hard to tell where one ends and the next begins!

Now, here’s where things get really interesting. They employ a unique feeding strategy—’bubble net feeding.’ By creating a curtain of bubbles, they trap fish near the water’s surface. Then, using their baleen plates, they filter out the water, retaining the fish inside. Neat, right?

These marine titans’ feeding technique is a shining example of their remarkable adaptability. Efficient, effective, and, let’s admit it, pretty cool to boot!

What Do Humpback Whales Eat?

Despite being toothless, they manage to enjoy a diverse diet thanks to their baleen plates, nature’s version of a sieve. Their meals typically include:

  1. Krill: Tiny, shrimp-like critters that make up a large part of their diet.
  2. Small Fish: Various species, think sardines and anchovies.
  3. Salmon: Yes, humpbacks do enjoy these big fish.
  4. Plankton: Microscopic entities that also make the cut.

Incredible as it may seem, these marine giants can consume up to a whopping 1.5 tons of these water dwellers daily. You may ask, how do they manage this feat? Well, they employ an ingenious ‘bubble net feeding’ technique to trap their prey. Imagine pressing your tongue against your upper jaw, forcing the water out, and sieving food. It’s essentially the humpback whale equivalent. Resourceful, don’t you think?

This way, they overcome the lack of teeth and exhibit an efficient, effective feeding mechanism.

Do Humpback Whales Ever Lose or Replace Their Baleen Plates

Humpback whales, much like us with our hair, experience a cycle of loss and replacement with their baleen plates. These plates, fashioned from keratin – the same protein found in our hair, skin, and nails – are broad at the base, resembling Venetian blinds or sieves. A humpback’s mouth may house anywhere from 270 to 400 of these 20-inch plates.

These baleen plates, vital for filtering food from seawater, undergo a constant cycle of erosion and renewal. However, it’s not a case of ‘out with the old, in with the new’ overnight. The process is gradual, with fresh plates growing as older ones fall out, ensuring the whale never goes without its crucial feeding tool.

The rate of baleen replacement varies across species, with some sprouting new plates every few months, and others taking several years. Intriguingly, various conditions like entanglement in fishing gear, diseases, and climate change can impact baleen health. Scientific studies have linked elevated cortisol and corticosterone concentrations in baleen to various causes of death, including nutritional stress and chronic disease.

Yet, despite these hurdles, humpbacks persist, constantly regenerating their baleen to ensure survival. Talk about resilience!

How Are Humpback Whales’ Teeth Different from Other Whales?

Humpback whales steer clear of the dental track taken by many of their sea-mates such as dolphins or killer whales. Instead of teeth, they boast baleen plates for filter feeding.

Here’s a snapshot of these unique features:

  1. Teeth vs. Baleen – It’s not teeth, but keratin-based baleen plates that humpbacks sport, functioning as efficient prey filters.
  2. The Feeding Game – These plates enable humpbacks to filter feed, a stark contrast to their toothed counterparts’ active hunting ways.
  3. Material Matters – Ever thought about the stuff your hair and nails are made of? That’s keratin, and it’s the same protein that forms these baleen plates. Toothed whales, on the other hand, have enamel and dentin teeth.
  4. Renewal – Baleen plates are perpetually replaced in humpbacks, a feature toothed whales can’t claim.

These traits underscore humpbacks’ unique evolutionary journey and feeding practices. So, next time you ponder over whale teeth, remember: not all underwater residents flash the same grin!


So, you’ve learned that humpback whales don’t have teeth, instead they’ve baleen plates.

They use these unique tools to filter feed their favorite meals right out of the ocean. Even though they don’t lose or replace these plates, they’re perfectly designed for their diet.

This sets them apart from other whales, making them a fascinating subject of study. It’s just another reason why humpback whales are one of nature’s most intriguing creatures.


NCBI. (2017). Comparative Three‐Dimensional Morphology of Baleen. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.

NOAA Fisheries. (2022). Beluga Whale. www.fisheries.noaa.gov.

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