: a horny keratinous substance found in two rows of transverse plates which hang down from the upper jaws of baleen whales

Examples of baleen in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The Rice’s whale exhibit, which opened in the Sant Ocean Hall in November, features a baleen plate from a deceased whale along with plastic extracted from the animal’s stomach. Rachel Nuwer, Smithsonian Magazine, 10 Jan. 2024 More urgently, the question of how baleen whales seek out their food has important conservation implications, particularly for a baleen species called the North Atlantic right whale. Kate Wong, Scientific American, 13 Mar. 2023 People harvested the baleen, blubber, bone, meat, oil, and spermaceti. Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi, Discover Magazine, 26 Oct. 2023 On the wall, a finger of whale baleen hung above a wooden snowshoe and an image of Jesus. Kyle Hopkins, ProPublica, 21 Nov. 2023 Mermaid Legend Origins Bryde's whale (mother and child) trap feeding small fish showing whale baleen with many seagulls in sunny day, Gulf of Thailand. Monica Cull, Discover Magazine, 24 July 2023 Right whales, a type of large baleen whale, have long been considered endangered, historically hunted for their oil-rich blubber and baleen before it was outlawed in 1935. Sonel Cutler,, 6 Apr. 2023 Over millions of years their descendants would eventually acquire the baleen and gigantic body sizes for which this branch of the whale family is known. Kate Wong, Scientific American, 13 Mar. 2023 The major difference between baleen and toothed whales is their feeding strategy. Joshua Rapp Learn, Discover Magazine, 19 Mar. 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'baleen.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English balayn, baleyne "whale, baleen," borrowed from Anglo-French balayne, baleyne "whale, porpoise, baleen," going back to Latin balaena, ballaena, ballēna "whale," probably borrowed, via an unknown intermediary language, from Greek phállaina, phálaina "whale," perhaps of pre-Greek substratal origin

Note: E. Furnée (Die wichtigsten konsonantischen Erscheinungen des Vorgriechischen, p. 171) believes balaena was borrowed directly from a Greek variant *bál(l)aina. Greek phállaina has been linked with phallós phallus, alluding to the animal's shape. The Greek suffix -aina goes back to *-a-n-i̯ă, with -i̯ă the Greek outcome of an Indo-European formation called the devī inflection from its designation in Sanskrit grammar, with alternating stems (in Indo-European terms) *-ih2-/-i̯eh2-. The extended form *-n-i̯ă is used in Greek in a group of words characterized by P. Chantraine as "vocabulaire noble," forming feminine counterparts to masculine nouns: hence, théaina "goddess" (theós "god"), pótnia "lady, queen" (pósis "husband"), déspoina "mistress of the house" (despótēs "master") (see La formation des noms en grec ancien, pp. 103-09). (With this function there are clear parallels in other Indo-European languages, with much re-formation—compare Sanskrit patnī "lady," Old Church Slavic bogyni "goddess," Latin regīna "queen," Old Irish rígain). On this basis the suffix was used in somewhat less "noble" derivatives, as therápaina "female attendant, maid" (therápōn "attendant"), téktaina "(female) provider" (téktōn "craftsman"). A further extension was to animals that might still be considered "noble," or at least awe-inspiring: drákaina "serpent, she-dragon" (drákōn "serpent, dragon"), léaina "lioness" (léōn "lion"). Then, by a development that Chantraine characterizes as rebroussement (literally, "brushing the wrong way"), -aina is used in words for things of very low regard. At this point the suffix seems to intersect with substratal vocabulary, as a number of the relevant derivatives, if not marked with other features of such vocabulary, allude to the Mediterranean natural world: lýkaina "she-wolf" (lýkos "wolf"), kápraina "wild boar, loose woman" (kápros "boar"), grómphaina "sow" (also grómphis; onomatopoeic?), hýaina hyena (hŷs "swine"), phálaina "geometrid moth" (of obscure origin). The suffix is found in the names of a number of sea creatures, fish, and marine mammals: bolítaina "kind of cuttlefish with a foul smell" (bólita "excrement, shit"), kolýbdaina "kind of crab" (substratal), mýraina, smȳ́raina moray eel (probably substratal), skórpaina "kind of fish" (skorpíos scorpion; probably substratal), phállaina "whale," phṓkaina "porpoise" (phṓkē "seal," probably substratal). The suffix also appears in the names of a few undesirable physical conditions, as gángraina gangrene entry 1, phlýktaina "blister, pustule," phagédaina "cancerous ulcer" (from the base of phageîn "to eat, consume").

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of baleen was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near baleen

Cite this Entry

“Baleen.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


: a horny substance found in two rows of long plates which hang down from the upper jaw of baleen whales

called also whalebone

More from Merriam-Webster on baleen

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!