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Wed Nov 27, 2019, 02:19 AM

Great auk extinction: Humans wiped out giant seabird

By Victoria Gill
Science correspondent, BBC News
2 hours ago

"The great auk will always hold a place in my heart," Dr Jessica Thomas says.

The Swansea-based scientist spent years piecing together an ancient DNA puzzle that suggests hunting by humans caused this giant seabird's demise.

Dr Thomas studied bone and tissue samples from 41 museum specimens during a PhD at both Bangor and Copenhagen University.

The findings paint a picture of how vulnerable even the most common species are to human exploitation.

Storybook seabird
About 80cm (2ft 7in) tall, the stubby-winged and bulbous-billed great auks used to be found all across the north Atlantic - from North America through Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia and the UK.


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Reply Great auk extinction: Humans wiped out giant seabird (Original post)
Judi Lynn Nov 27 OP
NickB79 Nov 29 #1
muriel_volestrangler Nov 30 #2
muriel_volestrangler Nov 30 #3

Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Fri Nov 29, 2019, 04:59 PM

1. I thought this was pretty well-established

I remember reading about the great auk being hunted to death in library books written 30 yr ago.

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Response to NickB79 (Reply #1)

Sat Nov 30, 2019, 09:07 AM

2. It sounds like this has established the decline was post-1500

rather than from 'indigenous' hunting, which the bird had survived for many centuries before that without losing genetic diversity.

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Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Sat Nov 30, 2019, 09:16 AM

3. The last one in the British Isles was killed because 19th century men suspected it was a witch

In June of 1840, three sailors hailing from the Scottish island of St. Kilda landed on the craggy ledges of a nearby seastack, known as Stac-an-Armin. As they climbed up the rock, they spotted a peculiar bird that stood head and shoulders above the puffins and gulls and other seabirds.
The sailors watched as the bird, a Great Auk, waddled clumsily along. Agile in the water, the unusual creature was defenseless against humans on land, and its ineptitude made it an easy target “Prophet-like that lone one stood,” one of the men later said of the encounter.

Perhaps the men enjoyed the thrill of the hunt, or perhaps they realized its meat and feathers were incredibly valuable. In any case, they abducted the bird, tying its legs together and taking it back to their ship. For three days, the sailors kept the Great Auk alive, but on the fourth, during a terrible storm, the sailors grew fearful and superstitious. Condemning it as “a maelstrom-conjuring witch,” they stoned it to death.

It was the last of its kind to ever be seen on the British Isles. Four years later, the Great Auk vanished from the world entirely when fishermen hunted down the last pair on the shores of Eldey Island, off the coast of Iceland. The men spotted the mates in the distance and attacked, catching and killing the birds as they fled for safety. The female had been incubating an egg, but in the race to catch the adults, one of the fishermen crushed it with his boot, stamping out the species for good.

Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/with-crush-fisherman-boot-the-last-great-auks-died-180951982/#5LgXbD3TFXKg7rlx.99

(other accounts say they were still on the seastack when they killed it during the storm: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=35rGM50pAoAC&pg=PA34&lpg=PA34 )

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