Engstrom is the Royal Ontario Museum’s interim director and is leading a crew at the museum who has set about the process of preserving the heart of the blue whale that was beached in Rocky Harbour in the spring of 2014.
It’s the first time this has ever been done with a blue whale heart and, looking at the flattened flaccid heart as it thawed, Engstrom could only guess how big it would be once inflated and reshaped to its living size.
As it turned out, the heart is actually wider than it is tall. While some further reshaping will be required, the heart is about four feet tall, but around five feet wide. It has a thickness of about two to three feet.
The inflation process involved first filling the heart with water, then plugging off all leaking holes and vessels before replacing the reshaped heart with an embalming agent to preserve it.
“It’s in pretty good shape,” said Engstrom. “It wasn’t a pristine heart to start with, considering the shape it was in when we dissected it, and there is some minor damage to it.”
Engstrom said the damages are relatively minor. There is also a hole on the side where the heart had been connected to the lungs, but he said that will also not be a problem to address.
The plan is to raise enough funds to send the preserved heart away for plastination and eventual display at the museum, alongside the whale’s recovered skeleton. Engstrom said the plastination may happen in the fall.
He hopes to have the bones and heart on display in 2017.