Great Auk mount, Pinguinus impennis, collected 1830
Common Name: Great Auk
Scientific Name: Pinguinus impennis
Image Number: ROM2004_1063_1
Description: Extinct in 1844, the last two Great Auks (a male and female) were collected during the breeding season on Eldey Island, Iceland. Once abundant, this goose-sized bird was used by sailors for food, oil and feathers. In the north Atlantic, ships would moor alongside the rocky breeding islands and their crews would drive the unresisting Great Auks on to the boats where they would have been clubbed to death by the thousands. At other times the birds were driven into the holds and used as fresh food on long voyages. Early voyagers recount the loading of vessels with Great Auks in less than half an hour. Besides the birds eaten fresh, four to five tons were salted for storage.
The Auk family includes the Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill and Common Murre. Members of the family are stumpy, short-winged birds confined to the sea and coasts of the Northern Hemisphere. They are all expert divers. They dive from the surface of the sea to feed on crustaceans and small fish, using their wings to swim underwater. Only the Great Auk had wings too short for flight.
This Great Auk specimen is one of only 78 skins left in the world. The only specimen in Canada, it is believed to have originally belonged to the famous artist and naturalist John James Audubon. The specimen is not on display; it is part of the research collections not normally available for viewing.