The heart is the most iconic ♥ of all organs, the sacred container in which we symbolically store our love and compassion. But that didn't stop scientist Jacqueline Miller from cutting one of the world's biggest hearts out of its body and sticking it in a tub filled with formaldehyde.
In the back rooms of the Royal Ontario Museum, where Miller works as a mammology technician, there's an assortment of hearts and other parts from various creatures. One of the most recent additions is the heart of a blue whale that washed ashore in Newfoundland after becoming trapped in ice. No other museum in the world has one, as far as Miller can tell from her research. To get it, she had to literally go waist-deep in whale guts.
For a scientist seeking answers to age-old anatomical questions, the ordeal – putrid smell and all – was well worth it, however. Some have speculated that a whale's aorta, a large blood vessel extending from the heart, is large enough for a human to swim through or even to drive a car through. But it's not easy to come by a whale heart – especially one that isn't already mostly rotten – so no one has really known for sure.
It turns out that the entire heart could almost fit in a box that's four feet on each side, so the aorta is not quite that big. Still. The heart is massive. Weighing in at 400 pounds, it pumps more than 58 gallons of blood per beat.
The heart of the blue whale will eventually be put on display at the museum as part of an exhibit on marine mammals, but for now, Miller and her co-workers are working hard to make sure this titanic ticker stays in tip-top shape.