Toothed Whales

Toothed whales are, by definition, characterised by having teeth as opposed to baleen plates, which act as filters for small food items. They belong to the Odonteceti suborder, which refers to their dentition in the Latin roots of this word. Toothed whales need teeth as they feed on larger prey, such as squid, fish and even other marine mammals (seals, for example). There are approximately 65 different kinds of toothed whales, including the Sperm Whale, Pygmy Sperm Whale, Dwarf Sperm Whale, Arnoux’s Beaked Whale, Baird’s Beaked Whale, Shepherd’s Beaked Whale, Longman’s Beaked Whale, Gervais’ Beaked Whale, Ginkgo Beaked Whale, Gray’s Beaked Whale, True’s Beaked Whale, Stejneger’s Beaked Whale, Spade-Toothed Whale, Narwhal and Beluga.

Image of a A dead sperm whale with it's jaw in the foreground.

A dead sperm whale with it’s jaw in the foreground.

Toothed whales have only one blowhole on their heads, as opposed to baleen whales, which have two. This is because they have formed a dominant nostril, which overtakes the other in size and function.

The echolocation skills of toothed whales need to be very well developed, as these hunters must hunt and seize prey if they are to eat and survive. In order to assist with their hunting, the toothed whale’s head is asymmetrical. This assists with depth perception. While the whale is in pursuit of its prey, it emits sounds that can bounce off of anything that is in its path. This echolocation is so finely tuned that it aids in the finding and capturing of prey that is darting through the waters in a determined effort to escape these powerful jaws. To focus the echolocation vibrations, the animal uses the fatty melon on the front of its head like a lens for sounds. These sounds are produced in the structural system of the blowhole.

Toothed whales are smaller than baleen whales in all cases except for the Sperm Whale. This impressive toothed whale measures an average length of more than 20 metres, or just less than 70 feet. They weigh an astounding 56 000 kilograms, approximately.

Although the teeth of these whales are used for seizing and tearing at prey, they are not specialised. This means that the teeth are all the same; not differentiated from one another, as is the case with human beings, who have molars, incisors, canines and so on. The number of teeth present depends on the species of whale. A narwhal has only one tooth, which presents as a tusk, while some cetaceans have over 100 teeth in their jaws. Their teeth are not replaced over their lifetime; they retain their original set of teeth (with which they are born) for their entire life. The teeth need to be conically shaped to allow the whales to grasp wet, slippery marine prey.

Because they are hunters and need to pursue moving prey, toothed whales have to be able to swim quite quickly if they are to survive. Therefore, these whales are considerably faster than baleen species.

Toothed whales often form pods in which they travel. These pods can comprise a varying number of individuals, depending on the species as well as on each situation. Some species, like Killer Whales, actually hunt in these pods to improve their chances of capturing prey.

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