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Photos: Six things to know about the gigantic new whale heart at the ROM

Toronto's whale finally reconnected with its amazing heart.

The 400-pound whale heart at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Lance McMillan / Metro Order this photo

The 400-pound whale heart at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Toronto’s blue whale will be reunited with its heart at the Royal Ontario Museum on Friday. It’s been a long journey from when the whale tragically washed ashore in Rocky Harbour, N.L., in May 2014. But scientists have done their best to preserve the animal and use it to educate the public. The exhibit continues until Sept. 4.

A ROM employee takes a photo of the newly installed blue whale heart.

Lance McMillan for Metro

A ROM employee takes a photo of the newly installed blue whale heart.

• The blue whale has the largest heart of any animal on Earth, and this is the first real preserved specimen. It’s a big deal.

• The whale’s largest blood vessels are so big that a human baby could fit through them. Not that they should, mind you.

• The heart is four feet wide, three-and-a-half feet tall and three feet thick. It pumps 150 litres of blood per beat, and even excluding all that blood it still weighs 400 pounds.

Lance McMillan for Metro

• Shipping the heart to Gubener Plastinate (of Body Worlds fame) in Germany was an “adventure,” according to Jacqueline Miller, a mammalogy technician at the ROM. It took six staff members eight hours to prepare the package. By the end, the heart was “kind of like a wrapped egg in a great foam egg-crate inside of the tank.” A lot of permits were involved.

• It took over a year-and-a-half to preserve the heart. Four months were needed to prepare the heart, using nearly 16 200-litre barrels of formaldehyde. Then they dehydrated the heart using 22,000 litres of acetone, a process that took another four to five months. And then there was still dissection, reshaping and colouring.

• So what does the blue-whale heart teach us? “Being the largest creature, the blue whale’s heart represents an upper limit on cardiovascular growth and adaptation,” said Miller. Eat your heart out, Michael Phelps.

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