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One-of-a-kind whale heart

By Ellen Bacca
Published On: Feb 14 2013 05:41:39 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 14 2013 06:09:13 PM CST
Carteret County -

After nine years of being apart, Echo, the  800 pound sperm whale skeleton, has been re-united with his heart.

The heart, which weighs a full 80 pounds, has been sliced in half. This allows viewers to touch and feel the organ. The process in which it has been preserved is called "plastination".  It is a process that takes out all the fat and blood in an organ and replaces it with plastic.

"And when you plastinate, it is a daily thing. If you don't watch it to make sure the aortas and ventricles hold shape, you could end up with a big plastic blob." said Keith Rittmaster, Curator for the North Carolina Maritime Museum.

Rittmaster says the heart was donated, and did not cost the museum. Staff are thrilled the organ will be re-united with the whale. Especially because of rarity.

"This is the first sperm whale heart plastinated in the united states and we believe also in north America and quite possibly on the planet." said Paul Nader, the man who originally proposed the heart be saved, and volunteer on the project.

People flocked to the museum to see the muscle. Many couldn't believe the size. 

"It's nice, it doesn't feel plastic-ey. You can press in on one thing and it actually moves!" said Gladys Sussle, a visitor and former biology teacher.

The heart will be on display at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort. When it is not on display, it will be used for educational visits.