WHALE DIGESTION

Picture courtesy of http://southport.jpl.nasa.gov/ polar/icebunnies.html

Because whales do not chew (odontocetes because they have no molars and baleen whales because they simply do not have teeth) their food, they must have strong stomachs to digest. Many whales have three stomachs (though some, like the sperm whale, have two).

The first stomach (forestomach) does not produce any gastric juices, but only has a very strong muscular wall which contracts to crush the food. This stomach can also contain pebbles and sand which help break the food apart. The first two stomachs can hold up to a ton of krill. The third stomach is the pyloric stomach and secrets gastric juices. This stomach, like in humans, opens up to the intestines through a muscular sphincter known as the pylorus.

In whales that digest squid such as the sperm whale, there is a material found in the intestines most likely to be the digested squid beaks. This liquid, known as ambergris is highly valued for medicinal purposes and its indispensable use for the manufacture of perfumes. The end of the whale's digestive tract is in its intestines and is extremely long. In a 55-foot whale, its intestines can reach up to over a thousand feet. The waste is then excreted through the anus.