Differences Between Baleen and Toothed Whales

Characteristics of the Two Major Whale Groups

Humpback Whale Pass Adult humpback whale
Adult humpback whale. Alastair Pollock Photography/Moment Open/Getty Images

There are over 80 recognized species of cetaceans, and these species are divided into two main groups: the baleen whales and the toothed whales. While they are all considered whales, there are some important differences between the two types.

Baleen whales...

  • Are generally larger than toothed whales. The largest animal in the world, the blue whale, is a baleen whale.
  • Feed on smaller fish and plankton with a filtering system made up of hundreds of baleen plates.
  • Tend to be solitary, although they occasionally gather in groups to feed or to travel.
  • Have two blowholes on top of their head, one right next to the other.

Female baleen whales are also larger than males of the same species.

Examples of baleen whales include the blue whale, fin whale, and humpback whale.

Toothed whales...

  • Are generally smaller than baleen whales, although there are some exceptions (e.g., the sperm whale and Baird's beaked whale). The toothed whales include all species of dolphins and porpoises.
  • Are active predators and have teeth that they use to catch their prey and swallow it whole. The prey varies depending on species but can include fish, seals, sea lions or even other whales.
  • Have a much stronger social structure than baleen whales, often gathering in pods with a stable social structure.
  • Have one blowhole on top of their head.

Unlike baleen whales, males of toothed whales species are usually larger than females.

Examples of toothed whales include the beluga whale, bottlenose dolphin, and common dolphin.

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Kennedy, Jennifer. "Differences Between Baleen and Toothed Whales." ThoughtCo, May. 17, 2017, thoughtco.com/baleen-vs-toothed-whales-3876141. Kennedy, Jennifer. (2017, May 17). Differences Between Baleen and Toothed Whales. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/baleen-vs-toothed-whales-3876141 Kennedy, Jennifer. "Differences Between Baleen and Toothed Whales." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/baleen-vs-toothed-whales-3876141 (accessed March 23, 2018).