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.
A Right Whale Named Phoenix
Phoenix swimming with her calf in February 2007 in the Southeast calving grounds off the coasts of Georgia and Florida.
New England Aquarium, Photographer Jessica Taylor
Right Whale Baleen
A right whale opens wide, revealing huge plates of baleen hanging from its upper jaw.
©Mason Weinrich, Whale Center of New England
Copepods: Right Whale Food
This magnified photo provides a close-up look at copepods—tiny crustaceans that right whales feed on.
Mark Baumgartner/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Whale Baleen from a Dead Whale
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.
New England Aquarium, Photographer Philip Hamilton
Baleen Close Up
This may look like a mane of hair, but it’s actually baleen from a North Atlantic right whale.
Michael Moore/ Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Whale Products in Fashion
In the 19th century, many women wore tight corsets that were stiffened with stays made from baleen.
Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian
Ad for Whale Baleen Umbrellas
Whalers hunted right whales for baleen, which was used in a variety of commercial products such as umbrellas and whips.
Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution