What Do Blue Whales Eat?

The answer to this question is actually quite simple.

Despite being the largest living mammal in the world the blue whales primary diet consists almost exclusively of krill, a small oceanic creature that generally measure in at a measly 1-2 centimeters; although a few species of krill can grow close to 6 inches in size.

In comparison to the small size of krill the blue whale can grow to be more than 100 ft. long (60 – 80 ft. on average) and weigh over 180 tons (100 – 150 tons on average)!

Even though these marine mammals are larger than most whales their bodies are quite slim and streamlined for their size allowing them to reach for speeds of up to 25 miles per hour or more when threatened or startled; however the average traveling speed of these marine mammals remains closer to 5 mph.

When it comes to eating food the blue whale can consume as many as 40 million krill per day, which ends up weighing close to 8,000 pounds of food on a daily basis!

Note: Instead of krill the baby blue whale consumes milk during its first 6 – 18 months of birth and can drink as much as 150 gallons of milk per day during its first year. This feeding will continue until the young whale is able to hunt for food and survive on its own.

Blue Whale IllustrationWhen these marine mammals hunt for food the blue whale dives underneath the water and swims towards its prey using a technique known as filter feeding (a common hunting method used among baleen whales) in which they swim towards large schools of krill with their mouth open and engulf both their prey along with the surrounding water.

They then push the water out of their mouth with their tongue while keeping the krill trapped inside their baleen bristles, which researchers and marine biologists state resemble the teeth found on a comb.

The baleen plates and bristles of these whales acts like a filter (hence the name) by allowing water to pass in and out of the bristles while keeping their prey trapped inside.

Baleen bristles can be thought of as a fence that allows air to move through but keeps small animals from escaping.

While consuming krill the blue whale may coincidentally swallow fish, crustaceans and squid that happen to be swimming in or near the school of krill it is hunting.

In regards to diving for food the amount of time a blue whale dives for generally last around 10 minutes, although these whales have been recorded staying submerged for up to half an hour.

It is typically only during the night that blue whales will feed on krill near the surface of the water because krill generally migrates toward the surface during the night and dives back down into the ocean during the day.

The reason krill do this is to minimize potential threats from predators while they feed near the surface.

Since the blue whales prey migrates toward deeper waters during the day time most hunting takes place around 300 ft. underneath the water.

Due to the fact that blue whales need to consume so much food they are almost always found swimming where large abundances of krill reside, which is typically in cold waters around the northern and southern polar hemispheres.

Krill (The primary food source of blue whales)

Krill are small crustaceans that can be found swimming in all of the worlds major oceans including the Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic and Antarctic oceans in addition to other smaller bodies of water.

Due to their small size and limited diet these marine animals are near the bottom of the food chain.

While their diet consists mainly of tiny phytoplankton and some zooplankton these animals are extremely important to the oceans ecosystem as they feed a wide range of oceanic animals.

Depending on their species and location krill can be found at varying depths of water from 100 m – 4,000 m.

In terms of size krill can measure anywhere from 1 – 15 centimeters, however most krill measure no more than 1 – 2 centimeters long.

In order to protect themselves these small animals may be found traveling in large swarms as this is meant to minimize the chances of any one krill being consumed.

In some cases these swarms can be so large that they make the water appear a different color.

While these swarms are designed to protect krill it can sometimes make them a target for large whales that are hunting them as the swarm presents an abundant food source.

Swarms may also occur throughout the day as krill become hungry and rise to the surface in order to obtain food.

Once they’ve filled themselves up they sink back down towards lower depths.

In certain locations such as the Antarctic krill can form very large biomass’s.

In fact it is estimated the biomass of Antarctic krill is more than that of humans.

Areas such as this are largely concentrated with krill because these areas foster lots of phytoplankton which krill feed on for their survival.

Aside from gathering in areas where they can consume large quantities of phytoplankton krill are also able to produce thousands of eggs at a time in order to maximize the chances of their genes being passed onto the next generation.

The combination of highly abundant food sources and high reproductive rates is what makes these animals so abundant in certain waters.

Interestingly krill are bioluminescent meaning they produce light through bioluminescent organs.

The purpose of producing emitting light from their bodies isn’t fully understood however there have been several theories suggesting reasons for this.

One of these theories include using bioluminescent light as a form of communication.

By emitting light these animals can organize themselves and locate other krill.

Another suggestion as to why they produce light is to help them blend in with the sunlight shinning from above them.

The bioluminescent light they produce may make them less visible to predators that are look up from below them.

A third hypothesis is that emitting light can be used as part of a mating call or reproductive pursuit.

In any case krill are fascinating animals that many other species rely on for their survival.

Without krill a large number of species would have difficulty finding sustainable food sources, including the blue whale.