Research on the Heart of the Whale

Nelson Institute of Marine Research

The world's premier marine research center


NIMR has agreed to a joint venture to further cardiac research in conjunction with the Bryce Institute of Advanced Marine Research. Dr. Walter Bryce and Dr. Ellen Bryce who helps with her husband's research were both students of Admiral Nelson's. Dr. Walter Bryce is considered one of the world's foremost authority on marine life. Admiral Nelson has visions of opening thousands of doors to cardiac research with the findings. As you may recall, the Bryces' research ship was sunk in a collision with an enormous whale and in the same accident their son, Jimmy, was killed.

This is the EKG of a large baleen whale. Below are some facts concerning the hearts of whales.

Humpback whales demonstrate periods of bradycardia and tachycardia associated with their dive cycle. Maximum heart rate measured to date for both blue and humpback whales is approx. 40 bpm. In general, the larger the animal, the slower the heart beat. The sperm whale is the largest of the toothed whales. Adult males measure up to 18m (60 feet) in length. The usual heart rate of large whales is from 10 to 30 beats per minute. The heart rate of any of these creatures has never been monitored adequately to give species-specific information, given the logistical difficulties involved. However, the heart rate of a smaller whale species, the beluga, was measured once to be 12-20 beats per minute. Using this information, one could deduce the heartbeat of a sperm whale might be slightly lower than a beluga.The heart of a large blue whale is astonishingly large. Well, in terms of its RELATIVE size (compared to the animal's mass), it isn't: it's something less than 1% of the animal's body size, which is not dissimilar to the equivalent size in humans. But in absolute terms... it is the size of an automobile. The heart of a blue whale weighs about a half a ton, 1000 lbs. It has to be large enough to pump about 15,000 pints of blood as compared to about 8 pints in a human. According to the Guinness Book of Records a female Blue whale taken on 20th March 1947 had a heart that weighed 1540lbs (698.5kg).The aorta is large enough for an adult to crawl through. The valves are the size of hubcaps.

Blue Whale- Balenoptera musculus

Humpback Whale- Megaptera novaeangliae

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