Do Whales Eat Plankton: How, Why, When, Frequency, And Several Facts


Whales are intriguing animals with unique behavioral patterns and food requirements. Let’s find out if they eat plankton.

Whales eat plankton, but not all of them. Toothed whales can bite and chew their prey and as such, they feed on fish, squid, crabs, and octopuses among other animals. On the other hand, baleen creatures like the right whale, humpback whale, and blue whale prefer consuming plankton, which is easily found in the ocean.

Needless to say, there is a lot of curiosity surrounding a whale’s eating habits. Together, let us look at some of the commonly asked questions about whales and why they eat plankton. 

Image Credits: Christian Sardet, from Plankton—Wonders of the Drifting World, Univ Chicago Press 2015, via Wikimedia Commons

How do whales eat plankton?

Whales have a wide variety of food preferences. Let us together explore how they manage to eat plankton

Whales swim with their mouths open through large quantities of plankton. As some of you might already know, whales are either toothed or baleen. This means that certain whale species have baleen plates that act as a sieve and separate the food (plankton) from the water. The gap in the baleen plates allows the plankton to enter the whale’s mouth. 

Not all whales eat plankton. Blue whales, for instance, prefer eating krill but also consume small quantities of plankton. Some other species prefer consuming schooling fish, squid, octopuses, and so on.

What type of plankton do whales eat?

A common question that people often ask is what type or kind of plankton do whales prefer. Allow us to tell you more about it. 

The type of plankton a whale eats depends on its diet requirements and species. For instance, right whales are baleen creatures who prefer eating animal plankton also known as zooplankton. In addition, they also feed on copepods and krill. Similarly, blue whales feed primarily on krill but also consume schooling fishes and plankton.

We must mention here that the diet varies for toothed and baleen whales. Most toothed whales prefer eating fish and squid whereas baleen creatures stick to plankton and krill. 

How much plankton do whales eat?

Image Credits: “Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)” by dave and rose is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Curious to know how much plankton do whales consume in a day? Let us tell you more about it.

The amount of plankton a whale eats per day is determined by its body weight and type. For instance, blue whales are the largest known creature on Earth. They eat 16 tons of plankton each day. On average, most whale species consume around 2,000 to 10,000 pounds of plankton per day. However, they only eat during the feeding season.

Needless to say, oceans have large quantities of plankton available. Whales eating plankton regularly helps clear the ocean and maintain balance in the aquatic ecosystem.

Why do whales eat plankton?

Wondering why whales choose to eat plankton of all things? Allow us to tell you more in this regard.

Whales, particularly baleen whales, cannot eat food items that toothed whales can and therefore eat plankton as an alternative. Besides, plankton is perhaps the most abundantly available food in the ocean and becomes the source of all nutrition that whales need. In addition to plankton, whales also eat schooling fish and copepods. 

On the other hand, toothed whales munch on various sea animals including fish, squid, and other whale varieties. 

Do whales eat only plankton?

Plankton forms an important part of a whale’s diet. But, do whales eat only plankton? Let us find out.

No, whales do not only eat plankton. Most toothed whales like sperm whales or beaked whales consume fish, squid, octopuses, and crustaceans. On the other hand, it is baleen whales that eat large quantities of plankton but even then, there are some baleen creatures who consume schooling fishes and krill. 

We must mention here that although plankton is not the only food that whales eat, it is still one that is widely available and is therefore eaten by a large number of whale species. 

Do blue whales eat plankton?

Curious to know whether blue whales consume plankton? Allow us to tell you more on this topic.

Blue whales are one of the largest consumers of plankton among all whale species. So much so that they are predicted to eat around 2,000 to 10,000 pounds during their summer feeding season. Not just that, blue whales eat 16 tons of plankton in a day. Besides plankton, blue whales eat krill, schooling fishes, and copepods. 

Being baleen animals, blue whales filter the plankton using their fringe-like baleen plates and push back the water they swallow into the ocean. 

Do all whales eat plankton?

Plankton is a popular food choice among whales. But, do all whales eat plankton? Let us find out.

No, not all whales consume plankton. In fact, most toothed whales prefer consuming sea creatures like octopuses, squid, and fishes. However, most baleen whale species, including blue whales, right whales, and humpback whales eat plankton even though krill forms the major part of their diet. They also eat copepods and krill. 

Whales eat large quantities of plankton to sustain themselves in the ocean. Plankton together will give them all the essential nutrients that they need to develop and thrive in the ocean.

Do killer whales eat plankton?

Image credits: “Bjossa the Orca” by GreyHobbit is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Killer whales are ferocious sea creatures who also happen to be apex predators. So, do they eat plankton? Let us find out.

Killer whales do not eat plankton but they prefer eating fish, squid, sea birds, and sharks. As most of us already know, killer whales or orcas are at the top of the food chain as apex predators. They are essentially carnivores and prefer eating meat over plants. As such, they eat meat indiscriminately and consume a large variety of sea creatures.

It is interesting to observe here that orcas are perhaps the only known predator of the giant blue whales. They are, therefore, ferocious sea creatures who feed on a vast variety of aquatic species. 

Do humpback whales eat plankton?

Image Credits: “Breaching Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)” by Gregory ‘Slobirdr’ Smith is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Wondering whether humpback whales eat plankton? Let us together explore more in this regard.

Humpback whales eat plankton. As baleen creatures, humpback whales do not look at sea creatures as a viable source of the meal since they cannot bite into them. Therefore, they rely on plankton (particularly zooplankton) for their nutritional requirements. As such, they eat around 4500 to 5000 pounds of plankton per day along with schooling fishes and krill.

The baleen plates filter the plankton for the humpback whale and they are able to push back the water they swallow into the ocean.

Do beluga whales eat plankton?

Image credits: “Beluga whale” by Lars Plougmann is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Beluga whales are intriguing animals with a unique diet pattern. But, do they eat plankton? Let us find out together.  

Beluga whales do not eat plankton the same way blue whales do because they are carnivores. Therefore, they consume fish, squid, octopuses, snails, sandworms, clams, and crabs among other sea creatures. Some fish varieties consumed by beluga whales include herring, salmon, flatfish, and cod. Surprisingly, they consume krill as well.

In addition to plankton, beluga whales do not consume seals, sharks, or dolphins although they get attacked by sharks and dolphins occasionally. Besides, beluga whales aren’t a threat to humans either.

Conclusion

Whales eating plankton may seem inconsequential but it actually greatly benefits the ocean. First and foremost, it helps clear the ocean and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Whales, in turn, supply plankton with nitrogen, iron, and phosphate when they defecate. Therefore, whales consuming plankton helps maintain ecological balance in the ocean and there is a decrease in competition between whale species for similar food choices. 

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