TORONTO, Canada (CBS) – The largest heart ever seen has gone on display at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).
The organ belonged to one of two blue whales whose carcasses washed up on the shores of Trout River in Newfoundland and Labrador province three years ago.
“Blue whale carcasses are very rare because most of the time they sink, as they don’t have as much fat or blubber as other whale species,” Burton Lim, Assistant Curator of Mammalogy at the ROM, told Reuters.
“The skeleton was buried in a manure compost for about a year and a half to get off most of the flesh and get out some of the oil in the bones.”
The heart was then shipped to Brandenburg, Germany, where it underwent plastination by scientists at Geuben Plastinate GmbH.
Scientists pumped the heart with formaldehyde to stop decomposition before soaking it in acetone to remove all the water from the tissue.
Over six months the acetone replaced all the water molecules. The heart was then soaked in a silicone polymer solution and put in a vacuum chamber. With atmospheric pressure at near-outer-space conditions, the acetone bubbled away and was replaced by the polymer.
“The water can cause things to start rotting away, so has to be drawn out of the heart, which was put into a vacuum chamber, which drew out a lot of the water, enzymes and chemicals,” said Lim.
The organ measures 5 foot x 4 foot x 4 foot and would have weighed at least 400 pounds before removal.
“Some dinosaurs, like sauropods, are longer but by weight the blue whale is the heaviest animal that has ever lived on earth and of course its heart is the biggest heart.”
Its discovery is helping mammalian scientists understand more about the blue whale’s physiology.
“This is the first and only blue whale heart, so now we’re working on measuring the diameters of blood vessels and actual size of the different chambers in the heart. We’re getting precise measurements that people were just estimating before.”
The heart is on display at the ROM until September 4, as part of the museum’s exhibit entitled Out of the Depths: The Blue Whale Story. Along with the heart itself, the centrepiece of the exhibition is a full blue whale skeleton, 80 foot long, belonging to a different whale.