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Whale tales

What feeds on a whale carcass? Over the past 2 years RD&T have been involved in a project with TV company BigWave to find the answer to this question. The culmination of this is 2 TV programmes that are due to be aired on 25th March. ‘Britain’s Whales’ is at 20:00 and ‘Britain’s Sharks’ is at 21:00, both on ITV.

The shows features a dead humpback whale that was washed up on a Scottish beach and needed to be preserved for filming at a future date. The whale needed to be frozen by RD&T and kept frozen for several months prior to filming. Freezing such a large carcass was a technical problem that involved firstly extensive modelling of heat transfer from the carcass by RD&T. Finding a method to cool the carcass rapidly, that was practical without specialised facilities but which prevented the whale from degrading too severely was challenging. The only method that was feasible was to use liquid nitrogen in a first stage freezing process to freeze the carcass to an average temperature of -10°C.  A reefer container was then used to finish the freezing process and to maintain the whale at frozen temperatures. Equally problematic was the thawing of the carcass.  This needed to be done very carefully as otherwise the surface of the carcass would become warm and microbes would be able to grow almost unchecked causing putrefaction and damage to the carcass. Again a suitable thawing regime was designed using a heat transfer model to minimise temperature increase at the surface of the carcass and to maintain the carcass in good condition for filming. Information on the freezing and thawing process is contained in a more detailed film that will be aired over Christmas on Animal Planet.

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