Blue Whale Project

Royal Ontario Museum

In May 2014, a small ROM team traveled to Newfoundland to salvage a Blue Whale that had washed ashore. 

Loss & Recovery
In April 2014, nine adult Blue Whales had been discovered dead, entombed in ice off the western coast of Newfoundland. These whales represent as much as four percent of the known western North Atlantic population of this iconic, endangered species, which consists of between 200 to 450 individuals. The Blue Whale is the largest species of animal that has ever lived on earth, outweighing the biggest known sauropod dinosaur twofold. In May 2014, a small ROM team traveled to Newfoundland to salvage a Blue Whale that had washed ashore in the hopes of turning this tragedy into a positive research and education story. The town council of Woody Point, NL had voted three to two in favour of allowing the suddenly famous whale to be brought to their town from nearby Trout River. Once it arrived, the team would be tasked with collecting scientific information and tissue samples for study and recovering the enormous skeleton.

After determining that work couldn’t be completed on the whale under Trout River’s boardwalk, arrangements were made to have the carcass towed to a more suitable location at Woody Point.

She was brought in to the slip, her oily smell enveloped the team. Though nothing much smells worse then a very dead whale, this was an opportunity for us to make something more of her life than memories of her inflated carcass.

The whale was flensed, much in the way sailors would have done on a whaling ship. They removed the blubber, then the flesh, and finally disarticulated the skeleton, bone by bone, from tail to head.

Preservation
The carefully tagged and documented bones, including the skull, were loaded onto two trucks. Together with the numerous tissues samples and the huge heart, the remains of both whales were driven back to Ontario. In the fall of 2015, the whale bones were buried in a mixture of manure and sawdust for a year of composting to remove any remaining flesh and tissue.In the interim, the ROM has begun a project in collaboration with Memorial University to obtain the complete genetic sequence (genome) of the Blue Whale. These data will be an invaluable aid in more precisely determining evolutionary relationships of whales and levels of genetic diversity in North Atlantic Blue Whales. We hope to make this information available both to the scientific community and to the public as part of our display in 2017.

The jawbone of the Blue Whale had to be moved by forklift!

The Heart
In the fall of 2015, the ROM prepared the heart for its journey to Guben Plastinate, Germany, where it will undergo the process of being plastinated by the internationally renowned Von Hagen team. Shipping a preserved specimen of this size and fragility is a detailed and labour-intensive affair, and required a team of eight. Upon arrival in Germany the first step towards plastination was undertaken. This involved the daunting task of injecting the blood vessels of the hart with polymer. The heart will return to the ROM for display in 2017 where it will be the only Blue Whale heart on display in the world.

At roughly 1.5m by 1.2m the Blue Whale hear is the size of a Golf Cart when fully expanded. You could fit over 2,000 adult human hearts inside the Blue Whale's!

Jacqueline Miller, Mammalogy Technician at the ROM, assisted Dr. Paul Nader (Lincoln Memorial University, Tennessee) in obtaining the first echocardiogram of a blue whale heart. Although the ultrasound was conducted post mortem, it will provide some important information regarding the whale's cardiovascular structure.

The Blue Whale heart in storage at Research Casting International awaiting transport to Guben Plastinate in Guben, Germany.

Royal Ontario Museum
Credits: Story

Jacqueline Waters is a freelance environmental communicator and graduate of the Environmental Visual Communication program co-offered by the ROM and Fleming College.

Justine DiCesare is a video editor, videographer, and mathematics enthusiast who is a graduate of the Environmental Visual Communication program co-offered by the ROM and Fleming College.

Stacey Lee Kerr is a freelance environmental communicator and graduate of the Environmental Visual Communication program co-offered by the ROM and Fleming College.

Samantha Phillips is a photographer and visual communicator who is a graduate of the Environmental Visual Communication graduate certificate program co-offered by the ROM and Fleming College.

Excerpts included from ROM magazine Fall 2014

More on the Blue Whale project here https://www.rom.on.ca/en/collections-research/research-community-projects/blue-whale

Follow @ROMtoronto and #ROMBlueWhale for updates

Produced by W. Ryan Dodge (@wrdodger), Digital Engagement Coordinator at the Royal Ontario Museum

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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