Baleen: From Whales to People

For being so big, right whales eat very small food, which they catch using baleen. Baleen is the series of fringed plates hanging in right whales' mouths that are used to strain seawater for food. Until the early 1900's, right whales were heavily hunted primarily for their fatty blubber, which could be burned in oil lamps or made into soap. But whalers also brought baleen along in their catch, which could be used in a number of human products. Learn more about how whales use baleen and how it was once used by people in this slideshow.

Phoenix swimming with her calf.
A right whale opens wide, revealing huge plates of baleen hanging from its upper jaw.This magnified photo provides a close-up look at copepods—tiny crustaceans that right whales feed on.North Atlantic right whales were long hunted for their baleen—the fringed plates hanging in their mouths that they use to strain the seawater for food. Baleen was used in a number of consumer products, such as corsets.This may look like a mane of hair, but it’s actually baleen from a North Atlantic right whale.In the 19th century, many women wore tight corsets that were stiffened with stays made from baleen.Ad for Whale Baleen Umbrellas