Are Whales Carnivores?

Yes, whales are carnivorous animals.

In fact all species of whale, dolphin and porpoise are considered carnivores.

Among the 80 or so estimated  cetaceans (cetaceans include all species of whale, dolphin and porpoise) all species are broken down into two groups or suborders which are known as the toothed whale and baleen whale suborders.

Toothed whales as the name suggest are whales that are born with teeth and also include all species of dolphin and porpoise.

These marine mammals are considered the hunters of the species.

Both the number of teeth a toothed whale possess (cetaceans can have anywhere from 2 – 240 teeth or more) and the purpose of their teeth can vary from one species to the next.

For example some toothed whales use their teeth to bite and/or chew their prey while others swallow their food whole and only use their teeth as a form of self defense or to show dominance, especially during mating season.

Because toothed whales possess teeth they are more likely to hunt and attack their prey when compared to baleen whales, which lack teeth.

Depending on the species toothed whales can eat everything from small fish and shrimp to large squid and octopus.

In fact the killer whale (killer whales are actually dolphins) has been known to attack and eat everything from small fish, squid and octopus to large marine animals such as sea lions, seals, sharks, penguins and even large whales!

In addition to being equipped with teeth toothed whales also possess echolocation which allows them to search for food, navigate the ocean and keep track of potential predators, even in complete darkness.

Because echolocation uses sound these marine mammals are able to gather more information about their surroundings than if they only used their eyes.

While toothed whales are born with teeth baleen whales are born with baleen plates instead, so they aren’t able to attack their prey the way their toothed whale relatives do.

Instead they use a technique known as filter feeding which involves swimming towards their prey with their mouth open and engulfing large amounts of water combined with small prey such as krill, shrimp, small fish and crustaceans, which are all easily digestible.

They then push the water out of their mouth with their tongue while using their baleen bristles to keep the fish, shrimp, krill and other small prey from escaping.

The baleen bristles look like the bristles found on a comb and act like a filter by preventing prey from escaping while allowing water to move in out of the bristles freely.

In other words the bristles can be thought of as a fence that keeps small animals or prisoners behind bars but allows air and debris to pass through.

To give you a better idea of the types of foods toothed whales and baleen whales are known to consume we have created a small list below.

List of common foods eaten by whales:

  • Krill and other crustaceans (eaten by tooted whales and baleen whales)
  • Shrimp (eaten by tooted whales and baleen whales)
  • Fish (eaten by tooted whales and baleen whales)
  • Squid (eaten by tooted whales and baleen whales)
  • octopus (eaten by tooted whales and baleen whales)
  • Seals (eaten by killer whales)
  • Sea Lions (eaten by killer whales)
  • Penguins (eaten by killer whales)
  • Sharks (eaten by killer whales – rare)
  • Dolphins (eaten by killer whales)
  • Whales (eaten by killer whales – rare)