As pretty much every school kid knows from an early age, the blue whale is the largest animal on Earth. As far as we know, is the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth. At least before whalers removed the very largest from the ocean, they could reach a reported 100 feet in length, although 70-90 feet is probably average.

It’s difficult to conceive of what it means for an animal to weigh up to 300,000 pounds, as a blue whale can do. An easier way to wrap one’s head around its enormity is to break it up into more manageable sizes. Did you know, for example, that a blue whale’s heart can be “the size of a large freezer” — about 5 feet by 5 feet and, even when drained of blood and fluids, and weigh close to 400 pounds?

Few are more acutely aware of that fact than staff at Canada’s Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), who recently underwent the tricky and laborious process of packing one up to send it by air freight to Germany.

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The heart came from one of two blue whales that washed ashore in western Newfoundland in 2014. Residents of  two towns — Trout River and Rocky Harbour -- where the whales washed up were, to put it mildly, relieved when crews from ROM and Memorial University dismantled and removed the carcasses before they gassed out the communities with their gigantic decomposition (or, even worse, before they exploded).

Both skeletons were shipped to ROM, which will display one of them after it has been fully cleaned and prepared, while Memorial will take the other. But ROM wanted to keep more than the bones: Specifically, they wanted to preserve the impressive heart of one of the whales — and that, as Laura Howells reported for CBC, was easier said than done.

To ensure its long-term preservation, the museum needed to send it to Germany, where it could undergo a process known as plastination. But how do you prepare a 400-pound organ for transatlantic transport? A fork lift raised the heart out of a steel tank filled with formaldehyde. Then, said Jacqueline Miller, a technician at the museum: “We had to get rid of the fluid, irrigate it, then package it in such a way that it would stand no risk of drying or exposure to air so it would get mold as it was transported to Germany.”

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The heart was tightly wrapped and lifted back into the tank, which had been scrubbed clean and lined with padding, and was then ready to be transported via a Lufthansa cargo aircraft to Germany. The whole process (video above) took eight and a half hours of laborious work — which was a snip compared to the six months of paperwork that had to be filled out in advance, Miller told Howells.

The plastination is likely to take 16 months, and the ROM hopes to have the heart on display by summer 2017.