Last of the Great Auks
July 3, 1844 - This was the day that the final pair of Great Auks (Pinguinus impennis) were killed. They were large flightless birds that flourished on rocky and isolated islands in the North Atlantic.
The Great Auk stood about 3 feet tall. It had a black back, a white belly and a big black beak. It was an excellent swimmer, but rather clumsy on land, which made it easy prey for eagles, polar bears and humans.
They were hunted to the brink of extinction due to their much-desired feathers in europe. When scientists realized that the species was almost wiped out, the demand for these rare birds increased as museums paid huge bounties for specimens. That spelled the end of the Great Auk.
The last pair of the birds were tending to an egg on the island of Eldey, ten miles off the coast of Iceland. The three fishermen who found them were Jón Brandsson, Sigurður Ísleifsson and Ketill Ketilsson. They had been hired by a collector named Carl Siemsen to find Great Auk specimens. Brandsson and Ísleifsson strangled the adults. Ketilsson smashed the egg with his boot - which meant he had to return empty-handed.
There was a sighting of a single Great Auk in 1852, but after that the species vanished. There are 75 eggs, 24 skeletons and a few dozen skins on display in museums around the world.