ba·​leen | \ bə-ˈlēn How to pronounce baleen (audio) , ˈbā-ˌlēn How to pronounce baleen (audio) \

Definition of baleen

: 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

Ship logs and sailors’ journals noted sperm, right, and humpback whales being killed for baleen—which functioned then in some ways like modern plastic—and blubber, which could be rendered into oil for lamps and industrial machinery. Steve Benjamin, National Geographic, "Humpback whales make stunning comeback in southern Africa," 18 July 2019 One of Reed’s daughters fixed the woman a cot to sleep on in the living room, beneath the baleen and dreamcatchers. Kyle Hopkins, ProPublica, "ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network," 16 May 2019 But some later lost their teeth, developing plates of bristle-like baleen in their mouths that’s used to filter small prey such as krill from the water. National Geographic, "Prehistoric Toothless Whale Among Oldest of Its Kind," 19 Apr. 2018 The situation is much the same in the United States, where 589 large whales (baleen and sperm) were confirmed stranded and dead between 2007 and 2017, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. National Geographic, "This Man Has Helped Give 460 Dead Whales a Second Life—As Art," 9 Apr. 2018 But as Sarah McQuate reports for Nature, scientists have uncovered the oldest baleen-whale relative yet. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, "This 36-Million-Year-Old Fossil Is a “Missing Link” in Whale Evolution," 15 May 2017 How did whales make the jump from using teeth to baleen? Jennifer S. Holland, Smithsonian, "A Whale’s Baleen Bristles Reveal the Story of Its Life," 1 Sep. 2017 These feed by filtering small organisms such as krill from the water, using hairy plates (made of tissue called baleen) as sieves. The Economist, "Fishing and sperm whalesAfter years of persecution, whales are getting their own back," 26 Oct. 2017 The source is nature itself — elk and deer sinew, baleen from a whale stranded in the river and delicate fibers from wild irises culled from forested high country. Patricia Leigh Brown, New York Times, "Traditions Revived at a Tribal Culture Camp," 10 Sep. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'baleen.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of baleen

14th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for baleen

Middle English baleine whale, baleen, from Latin balaena whale; akin to Greek phallaina whale

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Statistics for baleen

Last Updated

18 Aug 2019

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Time Traveler for baleen

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

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More Definitions for baleen


ba·​leen | \ bə-ˈlēn How to pronounce baleen (audio) \

Kids Definition of baleen

: a tough material that hangs down from the upper jaw of whales without teeth and is used by the whale to filter small ocean animals out of seawater

More from Merriam-Webster on baleen

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with baleen Encyclopedia article about baleen

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to move or obtain by small maneuvers

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