Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Great Auk

Eldey, Last Refuge of the Great Auk (CC)
While I don't consider myself a "tree hugger," I do believe that we humans, as the dominant species on this planet, have a responsibility to take care of the place. I, for one, don't want my grandchildren to grow up in a world devoid of natural wonders and wild places.

It was important to me growing up to be able to go places which were still relatively unspoiled by civilization. The Earth is our home and we should leave it in good shape for our successors.

While searching for an idea for a post, I came across the story of the Great Auk, an animal which is gone from this planet. Forever. Much of what follows is from Wikipedia.

The species was valued by the aboriginals of this continent for food and as a symbol. On the European side of the Atlantic they were valued for their down, which was used in pillows. I guess the Europeans had a lot of pillows in the old days because by the mid-16th century, the last breeding colonies had been wiped out in the eastern Atlantic.

Now this bird was an Arctic dweller, seldom getting further south than Massachusetts Bay in the winter. The Little Ice Age left them vulnerable to predation by polar bears.

Another thing that rich folks liked about the Great Auk (other than the pillows made from their down) was their eggs. Not to eat them, just to collect them.

Now we humans really get carried away when we take a hankering to something. The Great Plains used to swarm with millions of buffalo. Yeah, yeah, I know, technically they're bison - I like the Sioux word for this animaltatanka (for the bull) and pte for the cow. All that aside, the whites hunted those animals nearly to extinction.

For their tongues and their hides. The rest of the animal was left to rot.

In their thousands.

The Great Auk's demise really pissed me off, here's the story:
The last 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, but in 1830 the islet submerged after a volcanic eruption, and the birds moved to the nearby island of Eldey, which was accessible from a single side. When the colony was initially discovered in 1835, nearly fifty birds were present. Museums, 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 3 July 1844, on request from a merchant who wanted specimens, with Jón Brandsson and Sigurður Ísleifsson strangling the adults and Ketill Ketilsson smashing the egg with his boot.
The last pair, incubating the last egg. Slaughtered.

This is thought to be one of those animals -

Specimen no. 3 in Brussels, which could be one of
the two last birds killed on Eldey in 1844. (CC)

Seems like when we're not slaughtering each other, we're going after the wild life.

It is to weep.


  1. ...and then there was the Passenger Pigeon.
    The descriptions I've read about the flocks of those birds make it seem impossible for them to have been rendered extinct.
    But I guess stupid humans can accomplish the impossible.

    1. I know, makes me wonder at the sanity of our species from time to time.

  2. Greed and the attitude that "there's plenty more where they come from" may be our downfall yet!!


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Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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