Beautiful baleen


If you’ve managed to go to the Whales|Tohorā exhibition here at Te Papa then you’ll have come across the pieces of baleen.

Some whales have teeth – others have baleen. Baleen sort of looks like bristley paintbrushes hanging down either side in a whale’s mouth. It acts like a big sieve or tea strainer. Baleen whales scoop tiny organisms like krill and copepods in mouthfuls along with sea water. They force the sea water out of their mouths through the baleen leaving the prey behind.

The whales then use a combination of their tongues, sucking action and possibly some rinsing with sea water to dislodge the prey from the baleen (its hairy on the inside and the prey gets caught) before swallowing.

The colouration of the baleen depends on the type of whale it is – the blue whale’s is almost black.

Our pygmy right whale’s baleen is creamy white on the inside, dark grey on the outside with a stripe of creamy white along the top. Its beautiful.

6 Responses

  1. Connie

    I would like to ask if I could use your picture of “whale baleen” on a website that I am just starting to build on Whale Watching…..actually it is going to deal with mainly information on the various Great Whales and where in the world you can observe them and the various conservation efforts in place for each whale type. I am a whale artist and love all things whales and feel that the more people learn about these magnificent creatures the better able they are to protect them. You can see some of my whale paintings at – I would love to use your photo of whale baleen on a page describing the types of baleen whales and how the baleen functions on my whale site.
    Please let me know – I do not need any special files – I can just use it from your blog and will give credit at the bottom of the page for your photo.
    Thanks for your kind consideration.
    Connie McClure

  2. emmabest

    Hi Haley and Tyler

    thank you for your comments – we’re glad that people are still coming across our blogs and still finding them helpful! Pass the word around 🙂

  3. tyler smith

    hey your site was helpful cause i am reseaching right whales it is helpful ok.

  4. haley rippeon

    hey your site is helpful too me great job keep up the great work to keep your site going ok bye.

  5. emmabest

    Hi Lynne 🙂

    I’ve just checked you out seeing as your last name coincided with Dr Cath Kemper’s – she’s all good!

    Prof Fordyce thinks that the baleen will retain its colour over time, probably fading a bit. Its gorgeous isn’t it!

    As for age – they say that he’s under six months.

  6. Lynne Kemper

    Will the baleen stay this colour over time? Most examples I’ve seen in museums have been grayish but I’ve never seen one from a pygmy whale. Also, any idea how old this animal is?


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