The Spiteful End of the Great Auk

The Spiteful End of the Great Auk


Humanity has collectively been responsible
for a depressingly large amount of animals going extinct in our relatively short time
on this Earth. However, perhaps no creature was wiped from
the face of the planet for as silly a reason as the great auk. Once endemic to the North Atlantic, the great
auk was a flightless seabird not too dissimilar in appearance from a penguin. In fact, penguins (which were discovered after
the great auk) are believed to have gotten their name from the great auk’s scientific
name of Pinguinus impennis, due to an early (incorrect) belief the two birds must be related
due to their appearance. Moving swiftly on, at one point in time the
North Atlantic was positively lousy with great auks, with the bird being found everywhere
from the coasts of Great Britain to rocky inlets near Canada. As you can imagine, the sheer abundance of
great auks in existence naturally made them a popular source of food for sailors who are
said have hunted them in massive numbers. Being a flightless bird more at home in the
sea than on land, sailors found hunting great auks to be an almost comically simple affair
since the bird’s awkward, ungainly waddle on land meant that they couldn’t exactly
run away with any grace, let alone precision or speed. The fact that great auks supposedly didn’t
fear humans only made hunting them easier to the point where there are reports of sailors
walking onto islands covered in great auks with a sack and casually picking up birds
by the handful. As early as the late 16th century, experts
were made aware that the population of the bird in some areas had been near-totally decimated
by hunters, and a number of protections were put in place to perhaps save the species from
being completely wiped out. Said protections included whipping the living
crap out of anyone caught stealing the eggs of the bird, which didn’t stop people from
hunting them anyway because it’s not like the ocean was going to snitch on them. By the early 1800s the bird was critically
endangered to the point that some sailors believed it to be totally extinct, which ironically
may have led to the bird’s ultimate demise. You see, news of the bird’s rarity caused
private collectors and museums to issue large bounties for surviving specimens for display. This, in turn, caused sailors to hunt the
few remaining great auks in existence with a renewed zeal. By the 1840s, the bird was all but extinct
when the very last breeding pair ever seen in the wild killed by a trio of sailors called
Jón Brandsson, Sigurður Ísleifsson and Ketill Ketilsson on an island off the coast
of Iceland. The sailors, under orders from a merchant
who wanted a pair of great auk pelts for display, found the birds nesting on a rock. Not wanting to startle them, by the point
were understandably wary of humans, the trio snuck up under cover of night and literally
strangled them both to death. Then, for no particular reason other than
“screw the great auk” we guess, Ketilsson then stomped the birds’ nest a few times
to destroy the egg they’d been incubating. And if you didn’t think that was spiteful
enough, we should probably point out here that almost exactly four years earlier from
when the last breeding pair of great auks were killed, the last great auk ever seen
in British waters was unceremoniously beaten to death with a stick by a bunch of superstitious
sailors who thought it was a witch…

44 thoughts on “The Spiteful End of the Great Auk

  1. Hahaha, “swiftly moving on” i see what you did there Mr Whistler Sir! You kill me!

  2. Hmmm….that was surprisingly depressing. I'm kind of sad now. Well, at least I can take solace in the fact that humans have sorted out all of their barbaric tendencies, and horrific acts of malice and greed no longer happen…..oh….ya….never mind. Now I'm sad again.
    Thanks Highlight Penguin Murder History 🙂

  3. This makes me so angry and so sad. How cruel and disgusting we are as a race. Canada is a prime example. When Jacques Cabot sailed onto the coast of Newfoundland the cod and other fish were so plentiful that his boat could not move forward due to the enormous schools of fish. Fishing in Newfoundland was done by individual fishers up until the end of WWII when more 'efficient' nets and the commercialization of the fishing industry happened. As a result of this overfishing between 1960s and 1990s the cod stock was decimated. A drop of 95% of cod available caused a ban on fishing and destroyed local economies. Right now it appears that the cod may be making a comeback BUT there is a problem due to climate change and the fish are moving farther south. Their southern cod cousins stock collapsed by 90% and is not as quick to recover as in Newfoundland waters. Simon should also do a piece of Cod Wars I, II and III between Iceland and the UK which was so acrimonious that fishers were protected by battleships from both countries and Iceland actually broke off diplomatic relationships with the UK in 1976.

  4. Just when I start to have glimmers of faith in my fellow humans I see something like this that brings me swiftly back to reality.

  5. So that was kinda depressing and proves humanity sucks, but it has me wondering; what's with sailing and albatrosses?

  6. Simon…So this species emerges from the death of the dinosaurs, populates the world and within a few hundred years humans have made them completely extinct…..why, of course we loved the video. Man’s cruelty to small, helpless, defenseless animals. How can you not love that?

  7. That was sad.
    On a realistic note: over 99% of all the animals that ever existed are extinct, the great majority of which humanity played no part. Some day we homo sapien sapiens will also become extinct. It is the way of nature, of which we are but a miniscule part.

  8. They might come back https://www.earthtouchnews.com/conservation/conservation/can-the-great-auk-return-from-extinction/

  9. Well 437/0 is probably the best like/disklike ratio i have ever seen (i know that 1/0 is the same ratio but you know what i mean)…

  10. And now I'm going to work quite sad because I don't know if my contributions to humanity have any point… maybe we should accelerate global warming to reach our extinction… yes, some animals might share our fate, but nature will be victorious in the end.

  11. Hands down the best sounding introduction ever… Yeah, that whole bird thing is sad, but every time I hear that doot-dodo-do-doot, doot-dodo-do-doot, it makes me smile.

  12. So basically they were Porgs, but in real life, where people don`t feel bad for eating them and they just hang around watching their kind being eaten.

  13. That was one of those tricky thumb ups. Well, obviously showing that I like your video and found the subject interesting, it also felt a bit like I was saying, "good job murdering those birds! 5 out of 5!". I shall throw some bread to ducks to balance out my universe.

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