How Does a Whale Eat?

How Does a Whale Eat?

Looking at the size of whales it is puzzling how much food does it take to feed such a gargantuan animal? Indeed, it must be in the region of tons a day, but what do they eat to sustain their large appetites? In general, whales feed on the lower part of the food chain, they prefer to dine on small fishes but mostly zooplankton. Obviously, they have to eat vast amounts of these microscopic organisms and they tend to search for schools or large swarms of the creatures.


One of the main staples of a whales diet are krill, which are tiny fish which in turn love zooplankton. Krill are shrimp-like crustaceans and whales just love them, and the best thing is about krill is that they prefer to exist in large schools, so it makes it easy to hoover them up in the whale’s huge mouths. 

Eating Habits

Most whales feed during the summer months and in high latitude waters where there is plenty of food to be found. During the winter months the whales go into their breeding period and travel extensively. It has been said that whales eat roughly four percent of their body weight during the feeding season, but if they can eat more they will and store the excess food as blubber. So, in the case of Blue whales, for example, this percentage means about eight thousand pounds of krill. But the smaller Grey whale would eat less, around two thousand four hundred pounds in a single day. In the case of the Grey whale their food intake during the feeding season can be as much as thirty percent of their body weight.

Eating Habits
Eating Habits

How Whales Eat Food

To watch a whale feeding is quite a graceful thing to behold, as the animal grazes through swarms of krill with its huge mouth open. This is also termed as skim-feeding, but it is also the technique used when the whales swim under the water.

The actual eating technique is in three stages:

  • Intake of krill and water – the whale takes in huge amounts of food and water through its front baleen plates. The krill is caught up in the fringed baleen mat and the water is dispersed through the sides of the mouth.
  •  Straining – the huge baleen plates are perfect for straining out the nutritious krill.
  • The V-formation – whales can feed by themselves but when they hunt in packs they do so in a V-formation for maximum effect.

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