On the ceiling of the American Museum of Natural History hangs a model of the largest animal on Earth, the blue whale.
The model is a replica, one might say, of a female blue whale that was found in 1925. And it is huge—94 feet long—although at just 21,000 pounds of fiberglass and polyurethane, it is an order of magnitude lighter than a flesh-and-blood blue whale.
The exhibit was installed in 1969, but as researchers learned more about blue whales, they realized that it was not anatomically correct. So, in 2001, they renovated the whale. "[Artists] flattened the model’s once-overly bulging eyes, accurately redesigned the whale’s blowholes, and tapered the tail," the AMNH noted. "Using about 25 gallons of cobalt and cerulean blue paint, the team also recolored and respotted the grayish blue whale."
The most fun change they made was adding a belly button. Because, yes, whales have belly buttons, as we discovered in the late 20th century.
I bring this glorious object—the whale, not its belly button—to your attention because I received a video of the whale being cleaned. Even such a majestic thing must be dusted and vacuumed once a year; in the video—captured, yesterday morning, from a live cam situated for the occasion—we get to see its summer cleaning.
The video is embedded above. In it, we see Brittany Janaszak, exhibition
maintenance manager at the American Museum of Natural History, lovingly vacuuming the whale from an elevated platform. No cleaning products are used.
Her vacuum isn't any old vacuum. It's been specially approved for conservation work, said Dean Markosian, director of project management in the exhibition
department. It's "gentle enough to not damage the surface of the objects that are being cleaned," Markosian said. "The Whale is not as fragile as some of the objects on display at AMNH, but we would prefer be safe and take a little longer rather than take any unnecessary risks."
I leave you with this koan for contemplation: Even the biggest whale needs vacuuming.