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The AMNH's Giant Blue Whale Just Got its Annual Cleaning

The iconic blue whale model that hangs in the American Museum of Natural History is the institution’s crowning jewel—and one that needs to be shined every once in a while.

The 94-foot-long fiberglass and polyurethane replica is getting its annual cleaning this week; a process that takes one man, two days, and a whole lot of vacuum power. When we stopped by on Wednesday morning (September 7), Trenton Duerksen was hard at work vacuuming the layer of dust that had accumulated on the whale over the course of the year. While he was largely focused on the animal’s head at the time, the entire 21,000-pound model will eventually get the soft brush treatment.

Aside from the annual dusting, the blue whale also received some comprehensive surgery when the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life was renovated in 2003. While it’s been an awe-inspiring display since its installation in 1969, the replica has had its issues. It’s hard to believe, but during the time when the project was conceived and executed, few people had seen a blue whale (the first full-body photos of a live animal wouldn’t be taken until the mid-1970s), so specimens from whalers had to be used as models. That led to bulging eyes and other inaccuracies in the shape and color of the mammal.

"In 1969 we’d walked on the moon, but no one knew what a blue whale looked like," said Melanie Stiassny, Axelrod Research Curator in the Museum’s Department of Ichthyology (a.k.a. fishes).

All that and more was corrected during the early aughts renovation (which Stiassny oversaw), so now the giant blue whale just needs an occasional cleaning.

Duerksen is a first-time blue whale duster, and while it might seem like a pretty straightforward job, a previous cleaner told us the task requires strong shoulders and arms, and a good sense of spatial reasoning. Well worth the effort to keep a New York landmark—and what it symbolizes—shining bright.

"It’s a denizen of the open ocean, it brings the whole ocean together," Stiassny said. "And everything on the planet depends on the open ocean."

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Queen Anne of Brittany's Heart Stolen From French Museum
Guillaume Souvant, AFP/Getty Images
Guillaume Souvant, AFP/Getty Images

Bringing new meaning to the idea of stealing someone's heart, thieves in France made off with a 16th-century gold relic containing the once-beating organ of Anne of Brittany, the only woman to ever have been twice crowned the queen of France.

Over the weekend, burglars smashed a window of the Thomas-Dobrée museum in Nantes and lifted the six-inch case from its display, The Telegraph reports.

Anne was crowned queen when she was just 12 years old after marrying Charles VIII of France in 1491. After his death in 1498, she married Louis XII and once again ascended the throne, where she stayed until her death at age 36. Although her body was buried at the Basilica of Saint Denis, she requested that her heart be kept alongside her parents’ tomb in Brittany.

“The thieves attacked our common heritage and stole an item of inestimable value," Philippe Grosvalet, president of the Loire-Atlantique department, which owns the museum, told The Telegraph. "Much more than a symbol, the case containing the heart of Anne of Brittany belongs to our history.”

The gold relic was saved from being melted down after the French Revolution, and it has been kept safe at the Thomas-Dobrée museum for more than 130 years. The case contains an inscription in old French, which translates to: “In this small vessel of pure, fine gold rests the greatest heart of any woman in the world.”

This practice of burying the heart apart from the rest of the body was not entirely uncommon among European aristocrats in the Middle Ages. The hearts of both Richard I and Anne Boleyn were kept in lead boxes, and the hearts of 22 former popes are stored in marble urns at Rome's Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi church.

It's also far from the only instance of relic theft. In a slightly more bizarre case, fragments of the brain of John Bosco, a 19th century Roman Catholic priest, were contained in a reliquary at his basilica in Castelnuovo, central Italy, until they were snatched by a thief in 2017. The reliquary was ultimately recovered by police from the suspect’s kitchen cupboard.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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U2’s 360-Degree Tour Stage Will Become a Utah Aquarium Attraction
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The immense stage that accompanied U2 on the band’s 360° Tour from 2009 to 2011 is getting an unexpected second life as a Utah educational attraction. It will soon be installed over a new plaza at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium outside Salt Lake City.

The Claw, a 165-foot-tall structure shaped like a large spaceship balanced on four legs—a design inspired by the space-age Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport—was built to house a massive speaker system and cylindrical video screen for the band’s performances. Underneath it, a 360° stage allowed U2 to play to audiences surrounding the structure in all directions. To make it easier to tour 30 different countries with the elaborate system, which took more than a week to put together at each concert location, the band had several versions built.

U2 and its management have been looking for a buyer for the 190-ton structures since the tour ended in 2011, and it seems they have finally found a home for one of them. One of the two remaining Claw structures is coming to the Utah aquarium, where it’s being installed as part of a plaza at the institution’s new, 9-acre Science Learning Campus.

A four-legged, industrial-looking video-and-sound-projection rig rises over a crowd at a concert
The Claw at a Dublin concert in 2009
Kristian Strøbech, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

As the only Claw in the U.S., the alien-looking feat of engineering will be "preserved and sustainably repurposed as a Utah landmark and symbol of science exploration and learning," according to the aquarium's press release. As part of the expansion project, the 2300-square-foot stage system will play host to festivals, movies, and other special events in two venues, one with 7000 seats and the other with 350.

The $25 million Science Learning Campus hasn’t been built yet—construction is starting this fall—so you’ll have to wait awhile to relive your U2 concert experience at the aquarium.

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