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Great Auks


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The Great Auk was an enormous, flightless and extinct seabird of the Northern oceans. It was the original penguin, referred to as such by the mariners and whalers that plundered those cold seas. The name was perhaps a corruption of a Welsh phrase meaning "white head", but no-one really remembers now, and as the Auks were hunted into oblivion for their meat and feathers the term penguin gradually migrated to the opposite pole, where other flightless seabirds thronged. In the 1840's, the once-massive flocks had become a distant memory and Auks so rare that when one was found on the remote island of St. Kilda the islanders shut it up in a stone hut for three days out of fear it was a witch. When storms rose and the bird shrieked to be released, they overcame their fear to desperately bludgeon it to death. The last time anyone saw a Great Auk was 1844, when an Icelandic hunting party landed on the stony North-Sea crag known as Eldey. Only two birds were taken, and a single broken egg was found.


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