One of the not so common but just as relevant question that gets asked about when it comes to the whale species is, “what are a whales teeth made out made of”?
First to bring clarity to this question it is important to note that not all whale species have teeth.
Toothed whales as the name suggest are generally born with several rows of teeth, which some species use to grab and tear the flesh off their prey as well as use their teeth for self-defense.
A few species such as the narwhal are only born with a couple of teeth and baleen whales do not possess any teeth at all; instead they are born with baleen plates and bristles.
In addition to whales all species of dolphin and porpoise fall into the toothed whale suborder as they are marine mammals and all 3 (whales, dolphins and porpoises) are part of the cetacean family.
When it comes to their teeth the whales teeth are different from those of a humans.
Unlike a human’s teeth which are composed mostly of enamel, the teeth of toothed whales are composed of cementum cells (a specially calcified substance) which overlay dentine cells.
The amount of teeth a whale can have varies depending on species.
The killer whale for example (actually a dolphin) can have as many as 56 teeth, the narwhal whale has only two teeth which are buried in its upper jaw, and the sperm whale only has teeth on its lower jaw which fit into groves in the upper jaw.
When it comes to the dolphin species some species are known to have over 200 individual teeth.
As far as shape is concerned their teeth can also vary dramatically from one species to the next.
Most cetaceans are born with either canonical shaped teeth or spade shaped teeth while the narwhal is born with tusks.
Although some of these marine mammals are born with teeth not all species use their teeth for chewing their prey or self-defense.
Some species use their teeth only to grab their prey while other species swallow their food whole and seem to show little use for their teeth.
As stated earlier baleen whales do not have teeth; instead they are born with baleen plates that have bristles attached to them and from a physical perspective these bristles look and act similar to the bristles found on a comb by filtering the prey they consume.
Baleen whales are known as filter feeders and swim around with their mouth open engulfing large amounts of food and water.
They then expel the water using their tongue and use their baleen bristles to keep larger objects such as fish, krill and squid from escaping, while at the same time allowing water and small debris to escape.
The bristles can be thought of like a fence that allows air to pass through while keeping everything else ( example: children and pets or prisoners from a jail) from getting out.
In conclusion, there are around 80 known species of cetacea (cetaceans include whales, dolphins and porpoises) which are divided into two suborders known as the toothed whale and baleen whale suborders.
Toothed whales are born with teeth made of cementum cells that overlay dentine cells and the amount of teeth a whale has can vary from 2 to over 250 depending on the species.
Those that don’t have teeth are born with baleen that allows them to filter prey through the water much like a fishing net.
Once they’ve captured a mouthful of prey they then push the excess water out and swallow their food.