Tuesday, July 3, 2012

last great auk pair


Great auk pair by John James Audubon

On this dubious date: July 3, 1844. 168 years ago today. The last recorded pair of great auks were strangled to death protecting their nest.

The last known colony of great auks lived on Geirfuglasker—the Great Auk Rock—off Iceland. This islet was a volcanic rock surrounded by cliffs which made it inaccessible to humans (that was a good thing), but in 1830 the islet submerged after a volcanic eruption, and the birds moved to Eldey, a nearby island, which was accessible from a single side. 

When the colony was initially discovered in 1835, nearly fifty birds were present. Museums and collectors, desiring the skins of the auk for preservation and display, quickly began collecting birds from the colony. 

The last pair, found incubating an egg, was killed there on July 3, 1844, with Jón Brandsson and Sigurður Ísleifsson strangling the adults and Ketill Ketilsson smashing the egg with his boot.

And that was it for the great auk.

Forgive me. This story is gosh awful!


Patricia Lichen said...

Yup, gosh awful and deserves to be told. How odd that the names are known--an indication (as if their actions weren't enough) that this was apparently acceptable at the time.

Marie said...

A very sad story, yes, like so many similar ones! I am teaching my grandson about Iceland right now in a home-summer-school program I developed just to keep him sharp over the summer. He wanted to study Iceland so we have. I think this will be an important addition to our curriculum! He needs to know that these things happen, and since he loves animals so much, I know it will make an impression.