On July 3, 1844, fishermen killed the last confirmed pair of great auks at Eldey Island, Iceland. The great auk, was a large flightless bird native to the North Atlantic. It once had a population in the millions. For centuries, the penguin-like birds were popular as meat and bait. Their fat, eggs, and feathers were sold as commercial goods. By the 19th century, overhunting threatened the species.

Museums and collectors took an avid interest in the great auk as its population declined, but these early conservation efforts actually contributed to the species’ extinction. Museums sought to preserve and display the mounted skins of great auks, not the auks themselves. The fishermen who killed the last breeding pair were working for a businessman who wanted to sell the specimens to collectors.

Today, the peer-reviewed academic journal of the American Ornithologists Union is named The Auk in honor of the bird and as a reminder of misguided scientific efforts.

academic
Adjective

person or thing having to do with school, particularly college or university education.

avid
Adjective

enthusiastic.

bait
Noun

object used to attract something.

breed
Verb

to produce offspring.

commercial
Adjective

having to do with the buying and selling of goods and services.

confirm
Verb

to establish the truth or accuracy of a statement.

Noun

management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.

decline
Verb

to reduce or go down in number.

display
Verb

to show or reveal.

Noun

process of complete disappearance of a species from Earth.

mount
Verb

to climb up or get on top of.

population
Noun

total number of people or organisms in a particular area.

preserve
Verb

to maintain and keep safe from damage.

specimen
Noun

individual organism that is a typical example of its classification.