When a dead blue whale washed ashore in Canada scientists finally got to see what the heart of the planet’s largest animal looked like.
As the largest animal to have ever lived, the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) can also be expected to have some record-breaking internal organs.
Tales of its heart being as big as a car, with the aorta (its main artery) large enough for a human to swim through abound, but as finding intact specimens to research is rare, the truth has been difficult to find out.
So when a dead blue whale washed ashore in Newfoundland, Canada, experts saw a valuable opportunity.
A team from the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) was sent to dissect the 76.5ft (23.3m) blue whale, which had died after becoming trapped in ice.
This is the first blue whale heart to be anatomically preserved
“We had to get the chest cavity opened to expose the heart and then get in there and free the heart up from all of the surrounding tissues, getting in with what was left of the lungs and blood, pretty much up to my waist,” explains Jacqueline Miller, a mammalogy technician from the ROM.
“It took four of us to push the heart out through a window we’d made between the ribs and the side of the chest cavity.”
The organ that they retrieved can be seen in the video clip above, taken from Big Blue Live, a new series coming soon to BBC One in the UK and PBS in the US.
The heart weighed 180kg, and the team needed to use 1,000 gallons of formaldehyde to begin the preservation process (credit: Jacqueline Miller)
The blue whale represents the extreme upper limit of size and physiology
The blue whale heart, along with the skeleton of the animal it came from, will eventually be put on display at the museum.