It was a tear-streaked day in 1844 when the last of the “original penguins” were brutally killed (via Smithsonian Magazine). The flightless bird, which is scientifically referred to as the great auk, once dotted the countryside by the billions.
According to historians, this fluffy little guy was peculiar in appearance, sporting a pointy, rubbery beak with cartoonish white spots dotting its black and white plumage. Complete with an awkward waddle, a soft white underside, and wings that kept it bound on land, the great auk penguin was once a living caricature of the way vintage penguins were sketched. Ironically, the great auk was not a penguin at all and was closer in relation to the puffin than the penguin, according to the Biodiversity Heritage Library.
Mistaking a puffin-like bird for a penguin was the least of humanity’s mistakes in regards to this tragic extinction, which CBC claims has “human signature all over it.” New DNA techniques reveal that human interference was a great contributor to wiping out this once-abundant species.
Evidence suggests that humans cruelly drove the great auk penguin into extinction
It’s important to point out that scientists have no real way of knowing whether or not the species was already experiencing a natural decline at the time when humans proceeded to overhunt it (via CBC News). What is clear via DNA analysis is that the species likely did not die out as a result of climate change or lack of genetic diversity. Through a process of deduction, researchers project that overhunting of the species is the true culprit in this legendary bird’s disappearance.
The winged creature might not have been agile in the skies, but according to Britannica, it was quite a crafty swimmer known for navigating underwater tides. Still, its clumsy nature on land made the great auk penguin easy prey. And its fluffy feathers and near three feet of flesh made it quite an attractive catch. However, as fishermen and hunters thinned the species down to just a handful of remaining birds, the brutal nature by which they were killing these animals was also revealed.
Britannica describes a scenario wherein the helpless birds were lured up a plank and slaughtered like something you’d find between the pages of a pirate tale. Smithsonian reports that sailors along the British isles encountered one of the last few great auks to ever walk the planet. But rather than attempting to revive the species, they proceeded to stone the bird to death in a superstitious ritual.
The last remaining great auk penguins were a pair. The male and female love mates strolled the shores of Eldey island with their egg, the last of the species, in tow. Upon witnessing this, a pair of fishermen swiftly killed the last two living penguins. In a final, crushing blow, they stomped the couple’s egg beneath their boots. This was the end of the species. It lives on now only through its legacy, which should serve as a lesson for us all.
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