Here’s How You Pack and Ship a Blue Whale Heart

Museums are a bit like icebergs—most of the real work goes on under the surface or behind the scenes. By 2017, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) hopes to make two incredible additions to its collection: the reassembled skeleton and preserved heart of a blue whale. But before the whale’s remains can go on display, museum staffers have got some very messy work to do.

The owner of the massive heart and bones washed up on the beach in Rocky Harbour, Canada in 2014. ROM staff and volunteers went to the beach, collected the whale’s remains, and took them back to the museum. To keep the heart from falling apart, they left it soaking in a steel tank full of formaldehyde.

“The reason why we tried to preserve it in the first place is it's kind of a mythological organ," ROM interim CEO Mark Engstrom told CBC News.

But a limp, pickled heart, even an enormous one, isn't much to look at. So the museum decided to send the massive organ to Germany for plastination.

The word plastination may sound familiar; it’s the same process used to preserve and prepare the human bodies used in the famous Body Worlds exhibition. In plastination, bodily fluids are replaced with a flexible silicone that helps support the structure of the surrounding tissues, thus allowing body parts to maintain their shape.

The whale’s heart will be preserved in Germany—but it had get there first.

So how do you ship a 400-pound lump of flesh? Very, very carefully. Six volunteers spent eight and a half hours carefully removing the heart from its tank, draining it of liquid, then painstakingly packing it to ensure the giant organ wouldn’t be exposed to mold or at risk of drying out during its trip. The finished product involved a forklift, a lot of tape, 12 garbage bags’ worth of packing peanuts, and a boatload of paperwork. 

Because blue whales are endangered, mailing their body parts across the world requires a whole lot of documentation. The paperwork “took a lot longer than actually shipping the heart did,” technician Jacqueline Miller told the CBC.

The team’s hard work paid off. The whale heart arrived safely in Germany, and the plastination process will begin soon. In the meantime, ROM workers have turned their attention to cleaning the whale’s skeleton.

Header image courtesy of Royal Ontario Museum.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

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Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]


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