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Filter Feeding Explained: Whale Sharks vs. Baleen Whales

Posted On May 31, 2012 by

Suddenly out of the deep blue water appears a whale shark directly beneath me. The gentle giant moved gracefully to the surface of the water and began feeding next to me. I had been snorkeling off the coast of Tofo in Mozambique and felt that this was a dream come true. Experiences like this make me appreciate the variety of nature’s feeding techniques. You see whale sharks and baleen whales are both filter feeders, animals that eat by straining tiny food, like plankton, from the water. But how they go about filter feeding is completely different.

In whale sharks, teeth don’t play a major role in feeding. In one of their filter-feeding methods, they suction water into their mouths at high velocities while remaining stationary. Food moves through filtering pads that cover the entrance of their throats. The filtering pads are broad mess pads full of millimeter-wide pores that act like a sieve, allowing water to pass through while capturing food particles. Continue reading »