Digital Whale Museum

Whale-baleen products

What is whale-baleen ?

Today, more than ten species of baleen whales are recognized worldwide. They have hundreds of baleen plates arranged across their upper jaws, and different species are different colors and shapes. While the whales are alive, their baleen is very flexible, elastic, and has a peculiar triangular shape. It consists mostly of keratin just like our fingernails and hair.

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The Many Uses of Baleen

Steamed baleen is soft and can be molded into various shapes. As a result of its peculiar elasticity and stain-resistant characteristics along with its beauty similar to that of tortoiseshell, baleen products are still made in Hokkaido, Miyagi, Osaka, Nagasaki, etc. However, manufacturing baleen products requires highly experienced artisans and time, which makes it difficult to continue its production.

Hige thumb 01 Pens stand
Hige thumb 02 “Kanzashi”, hair ornament
Hige thumb 03 Paper knife
Hige thumb 04 “Cha-taku” or saucer
Hige thumb 05 “Meimei-zara” - Serving Plates
Hige thumb 06 Fishing rod
Hige thumb 07 Ear pick
Hige thumb 08 “Mago-no-te” or backscratcher
Hige thumb 09 Shoehorn
Hige thumb 10 Ornaments
Hige thumb 11 Awaji “Deku” or Wooden Puppet - Head (Courtesy of Mr. Yasuhiro Ueda)
Hige thumb 12 “Ukai” or Cormorant Fishing “Tsumoso”
Hige thumb 13 “Seseri”
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Products of whale teeth

What kind of teeth do whales have?

There are currently more than 70 species of toothed whales in the world. Depending on what they eat, the number and size of their teeth differ among species. While most mammals have teeth that vary in shape, whale teeth are all the same. The shape of their teeth tells us that they swallow their food without chewing.

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The Uses of Whale Teeth

The most popular teeth which are used in whale products are those of sperm whales. Since they have holes in their teeth depending on their age and size, it makes it difficult to choose the right tooth for the right product. While the whale tooth industry still survives in Miyagi and Nagasaki, the scarcity and the cost of whale teeth makes it difficult to continue production. Today, modern materials like plastic are being used in place of whale teeth.

Ha thumb 01 Whale Pipe
Ha thumb 02 Material for Inkan (Stamps)
Ha thumb 03 “Scrimshaw”
Ha thumb 04 Vase
Ha thumb 05 Penguin ornament
Ha thumb 06 Dragon sculpture
Ha thumb 07 Brooch
Ha thumb 08 Sculpture of 6 whales
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