Types Of Whales

Information on the Two Types of Whales

Although they consist of several species, each falls under the two types of whales. Although many species of animals are grouped together by size, color, and region, types of whales are distinguished by their feeding techniques. Whales are either classified as toothed or baleen; odontoceti or mysticeti. This article discusses these two types of whales and several species that make up each classification.

Classification Description: Odontoceti

Odontoceti, or toothed whales, make up the largest group of whales on earth. Because they have teeth ranging in number from 2 to over 250, they are able to hunt fairly large prey, including but not limited to squid, large fish, and even other whales. Since their eyesight is not particularly good, they are able to hunt using echolocation.

These whales tend to be smaller than non-toothed varieties, but they differ in other ways as well. While all whales have blowholes, depending on the type of whale they can actually have different numbers of them. Toothed whales, however, only have one. Their heads are also different; they are asymmetrical, whereas mysticeti whales have symmetrical heads.

Classification Description: Mysticeti

Mysticeti whales are characterized by their lack of teeth. Instead, they have filter-like baleen that hangs down from their top jaw. Baleen is made from the same material as fingernails, and because of this is quite pliable and flexible, but can still function effectively. Essentially baleen acts as a sieve, with the inside edge lined with hairy plates that can filter plankton, small fish, and krill (a very small crustacean). Since they do not need to hunt their food, these whales have no echolocation. They still sing, however, and communicate through song as do the odontoceti.

The baleen can be used in a number of ways; these whales don’t all simply float through the ocean with their mouths open, although skimmers do. Some of these whales gulp, alternating between swimming and swallowing their food. Some whales alternate between skimming and swallowing. Still, others tend to be bottom feeders, vacuuming and filtering through the sand at the ocean floor.

Aside from feeding habits, mysticeti whales can also be spotted easily by their sheer size. Containing most of the “great whales,” this group contains the largest mammal on earth, the blue whale. In addition to size, this type of whale also boasts two blowholes; toothed whales all have only one. Unlike toothed whales that have asymmetrical heads, baleen whales boast symmetry.

Toothed Species

As stated above, the toothed group of whales contains a large number of species. This group contains three separate families: Physeteridae, Kogiidae, and Zipihiidae. These three families house a combined total of approximately 20 whale species.

The largest whale contained in this group, a member of the Physeteridae family, is also one of the most popular species—the sperm whale. The mighty sperm whale has two toothed relatives in the Kogiidae family: the pygmy and dwarf sperm whales. The final family of odontoceti whales is comprised of almost 20 small, beaked whales. Some of these whales contain as little as 2 teeth, but they are still able to hunt and kill their prey.


Baleen Species

The group of baleen whales is a small group indeed, but it is comprised of the biggest whale species on earth and broken down into 4 currently existing families: Eschrichtiidae, Balaenopteridae, Balaenidae, and Neobalaenidae.

Aside from the monumental blue whale, several other well known species are members of this group as well. The humpback, the gray whale, fin whale, and even Bryde’s whale all find themselves classified as types of whales found in the baleen group.