Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Great Auk

Pinguinus impennis
The Greak Auk once lived across the North Atlantic, and was once referred to as "the Penguin of the North" due to the fact that it was a black and white waterbird unable to fly. Their genus name is even Pinguinus!

Like Penguins, Great Auks were excellent swimmers and fish catchers. They hunted in shallow coastal waters, and moved to rocky islands in order to breed. They probably mated for life, and did you know that their eggs were 5in (13cm) long?

Unfortunately, tragedy struck the Great Auk. Between the 15th and 19th centuries millions of them were hunted for meat and feathers. While their lack of flight allowed them to hunt effectively in water, it also made them very easy targets for man. Before human encroachment, the Auks had very few natural predators. A second blow came when, in 1830, the last remaining colony sunk off the coast of Iceland due to a volcanic eruption. The few surviving birds were swiftly killed off when they relocated to the mainland.

By 1844, the once abundant birds were all gone. A few dozen specimens in museums are all that we have left of the Penguin of the North.

Status : Extinct since 1844
Location : North Atlantic
Size : Height up to 33in (85cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Charadriiformes
Family : Alcidae -- Genus : Pinguinus -- Species : P. impennis

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