Lesson Plan

Tooth or No Tooth? How to Eat Like a Whale

Right whale breaching
Right whale


Overall Rating

Add your review
Grade Level:
Fourth Grade
Biology: Animals, Marine Biology
35-40 minutes
Group Size:
Up to 36
National/State Standards:
National Standards for Science:
Content Standard C

North Carolina State Standards
4.L.1 -4.L.1.1, 4.L.1.2
North Carolina, whales, adaptations, endangered species, Cape Hatteras, Cape Hatteras National Seashore


This lesson is designed to teach students how to identify whales as marine mammals. The teacher will introduce the difference between baleen and toothed whales and increase the students understanding of the feeding method of baleen whales, and why Baleen whales are connected to Cape Hatteras National Seashore


Students will: 

  • Identify whales as mammals, not fish.
  • Comprehend that toothed whales can chew their prey, baleen whales cannot.
  • Understand the concept of eating abilities of baleen whales.
  • Develop an understanding of why right whales are endangered. 


Baleen whales...
  • Instead of teeth, these whales have baleen plates made of keratin, which hang from the upper jaw. Human fingernails are made from keratin. 
  • Hundreds of baleen plates make up a filtering system, through which baleen whales feed on small fish and plankton. 
  • Are generally larger than toothed whales. The largest animal in the world, the blue whale, is a baleen whale. 
  • Tend to be solitary, although they occasionally gather in groups to feed or to travel. 
  • Have two blowholes on top of their head, one right next to the other. Female baleen whales are also larger than males of the same species. Examples of baleen whales include the blue whale, right whale, and humpback whale. 
Toothed whales...  
  • Are generally smaller than baleen whales, although there are some exceptions (e.g., the sperm whale and Baird's beaked whale). 
  • Are active predators and have teeth that they use to catch their prey and swallow it whole. The prey varies depending on species, but can include fish, seals, sea lions or even other whales. 
  • Have a much stronger social structure than baleen whales, often gathering in pods with a stable social structure. 
  • Have one blowhole on top of their head.  


  • 2 dishpans or tubs filled ½ way with water 
  • At least a 6 oz cup 
  • One bag of rice to pour into one tub of water… rice represents Krill in the ocean (in the other tub just water to represent the ocean) 
  • Pictures or samples of some of whale babies (calf)  
  • Face of a person drawn as large as you can on a sheet of poster board (see sample)
  • At least two pictures of other types of sea animals to represent what a toothed whale might eat.  
  • Attachment entitled Whales sign.pdf, with facts about the right whale on it 
  • At least one pre-made card of "fake" baleen (see directions below and picture attached) 
2 days prior to starting: To make fake baleen, cut a piece of poster board about 5"x8". Glue down pine straw collected beforehand, on one edge of the poster board creating a very thick "broom-like" appearance. When dry, reinforce with tape to hold everything in place. 



Students will be able to:
  • Describe two things that make a whale a mammal. 
  • List at least three things that baleen and toothed whales eat. 
  • Explain the main difference between toothed and baleen whales. 

Park Connections

The Atlantic Ocean waters located off of Cape Hatteras National Seashore is home to some of the last right whales remaining in the world.

Last updated: April 14, 2015