The Balaenoptera musculus also known as the blue whale is the largest animal to have ever lived which is expected to have some record-breaking internal organs.
Tales of its heart being as big as a car, with its aorta being 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.
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. I was expecting something the size of a car, but found a heart more like the size of maybe a small golf cart or circus bumper car for two,” Ms Miller says.
The heart weighed 28st 4lb (180kg), and the team needed to use 1,000 gallons of formaldehyde to begin the preservation process.
The aorta was also discovered to be slightly smaller than it is reputed to be, probably capable of fitting a human head inside. But at 28st 4lb (180kg) it was still hefty and the ROM team used about 1,000 gallons of formaldehyde, which stops tissue from decomposing any further, to begin the preservation process.
To our knowledge this is the first blue whale heart to be anatomically preserved for exhibit and study. People are always curious how big it is, and if it is the same as our heart, structurally,” Ms Miller says.
The blue whale heart, along with the skeleton of the animal it came from, will eventually be put on display at the museum. More so, the team will also be working with Dr Robert Henry and Dr Paul Nader, two anatomy specialists from Lincoln Memorial University, Tennessee, US, to properly document the whale.
The blue whale represents the extreme upper limit of size and physiology, and its behaviour and physiological tolerances should be accordingly affected. Anatomically, not a lot has been published about the blue whale heart. We’d also like to have an answer for our visitors when they ask ‘how big is it’?,” Ms Miller says.
via BBC News