Humans Given Sole Blame for Extinction of the Great Auk

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An image from Birds of America by John James Audubon depicting the Great Auk. ( Public Domain under PD-US )

Humans May Be Solely to Blame for the Great Auk’s Extinction

by Brigit Katz/Smithsonian.com

The great auk, a large, flightless bird with a black back and a white belly, once lived across the North Atlantic—from Scandinavia to the eastern coast of Canada. Since prehistoric times, humans hunted these great animals, which could reach two-and-a-half feet in height, for their meat and eggs. But around the early 16th century, when European seaman discovered the large auk populations of Newfoundland, the killing of the birds reached rapacious levels. “Enormous numbers were captured,” writes Encyclopedia Britannica, “the birds often being driven up a plank and slaughtered on their way into the hold of a vessel.”

By the mid 19th century, the great auk had disappeared. And now, a study published in the journal eLife seeks to answer lingering questions about the birds’ demise: Did humans alone drive auks to extinction? Or was the species already declining due to natural changes in the environment?

Hoping to shed new light on the great auk’s extinction, a team of researchers sequenced the complete mitochondrial genomes of 41 birds, using specimens held in museums, reports Gizmodo’s Ryan F. Mandelbaum. The remains dated from 170 to 15,000 years old, and represented individuals from across the auk’s former geographic range.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. I watched, long ago, a documentary about the people of Isles of Lewis, here in my Bonnie Scotland, in the not so long past going to the far West Isle of St Kilda or some islet close by to get some of the migrating bird eggs and even catch some birds. In the documentary, it was mention of the Auk which was captured but dead and then given to England for some museum stuffing. So far, I tend to accept we are responsible for its demise, like the sole animal n Australia in the first half of the 1900s. But blaming all the megafauna of Americas/Australia extinction solely to man was and is sort sighted. We have now evidence of series of cataclysm, in the form of asteroids showers, reaching a peak 21 years later, which caused the cooling in temperatures back 12 800 years ago, the famous Younger Dryas, low temperature which lasted 1200 years. But the damages were global and the megafauna, like the North America Clovis culture perished due to massive flooding, caused in turn by the weak and destruction of icecaps due to the asteroid showers hitting was is today Canad and North US but in that time full of icesheets.

  2. In Siberia, the scientists found the remains of the oldest dog in the world. For more than 12 thousand years, the puppy’s mummy has been stored in permafrost, the body of which was perfectly preserved to this day.

    • Andy, I have been following this story. It seems like dogs and humans were destined to be companions.

    • To Ms Carol: there was no coincidence. We had been genetically engineered by the Annuanki, therefore us being GMOs alongside our friends the domesticated plants and animals. That include dogs too. That is what the Sumerians left us 6000 years ago on their tables.