Humans ate all the great auk eggs

The great auk was persecuted to extinction by humankind many years ago. Excessive hunting was the main cause and it is said that the last great auk living on the British Isles was stoned to death. The bird became extinct entirely when fishermen hunted down the last pair on the shores of Eldey island off the coast of Iceland.

Last great auk. Photo in public domain.

At one time it was a mystery as to why no one ever saw any great auk eggs on the colonies of St Kilda. This was 175 years ago after the species had died out. It was thought that the chicks hatched and departed quickly afterwards.

Research now by Tim Birkhead, of Sheffield University, published in British Birds discovered that the chicks were never seen because all the eggs were eaten by people.

Comment: the story makes me angry and I’m sure that other animal advocates would also be angry at reading about this excessive persecution of the great auk which was a species of flightless alcid. For the record it became extinct in the mid-19th century. The bird had tiny wings at 6 inches long and flightless. However, it was a powerful swimmer.

It appears that a reason why the bird was hunted to extinction was because it was prized for their meat, oil and feathers. The bird was unaware of the dangers posed by humans who were able to walk up to them and simply strangle them and throw them into a boat. There was no conception of wildlife conservation or sensitivity towards a sentient being.

I hope times have changed and that today humankind is more sensitive to the conservation of wildlife. I sometimes doubt it though judging by how the international trade in wildlife body parts is thriving across the planet. If it’s not body parts it’s live animals who often die in transit. It’s all quite ghastly to people like me.


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