Flightless sea Bird of the Auk family (Alcidae) of the North Atlantic Ocean, extinct since 1844.
Scientific name: Alca impennis, given by Carl von Linné in 1758.
Variant name: Garefowl.
Physical description: Length, 2 feet 6 inches. Upper parts black, white below. Oval, white patch in front of the eye. Large, black beak with white grooves.
Distribution: Canada; Greenland; Iceland; Scotland; Norway.
Significant sightings: In 1867, a native Green-lander is said to have captured a Great auk on an island in Qeqertarsuaq Tunua, Greenland, and eaten it.
In the 1920s and 1930s, supposed Great auks reported in the Lofoten Islands, Nordland County, Norway, turned out to be penguins brought from Australia and released by whalers.
Present status: The last known breeding pair of Great auks were killed by three fishermen on the island of Eldey, Iceland, on June 3, 1844. The body parts of these two are kept in specimen jars at the University Zoological Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark. Errol Fuller thinks the skins are at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum and the Royal Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. Other scattered specimens may have lingered after 1844 but not for long.
Sources: Isaac J. Hayes, The Land of
Desolation, Being a Personal Narrative of Adventure in Greenland (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1871); "Raiders of the Lost Auk," ISC Newsleiter 6 (Spring 1987): 5-7; Errol Fuller, The Great Auk (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1999); Christopher Cokinos, Hope Is the Thing with Feathers (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 2000), pp. 305-336; Nick Warren, "The End of the Auk," Fortean Times, no. 145 (May 2001): 48; Jeremy Gaskell, Who Killed the Great Auk? (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).
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