Science

Evidence Shows Humans Responsible For the Extinction of Big Atlantic Seabird

It is incredibly saddening to note that humans and humans only might have been solely responsible for the extinction of one of the most famous birds of the northern hemisphere. There was a time when great auk, which was a flightless bird, almost 3-feet tall, abounded in the North Atlantic Ocean, right from the US Atlantic Coast to Iceland and Greenland via the whole of European waters. The bird resembled a penguin. The name penguin is from the older term for great auk. The last bird got killed by hunters way back, and it was declared extinct in 1844. The cause of extinction is still unclear whether humans are responsible or if the weather played a role in the same. In many pieces of evidence, it was found that humans were solely responsible for the extinction.

The hunting of these birds took place so relentlessly that the extinction took place in a short period. Researchers are trying to find out if the birds were already in the path of decline and at high risk of extinction. For that, mitochondrial DNA samples were collected and sequenced from innumerable bones of the great auk, which were found in various museums in North America and Europe. Ocean current data were also studied along with other factors that might have led to the extinction of the bird. Research and modeling showed that humans were the most potent force responsible for the killing of the birds. Hundreds of thousands of birds were killed by humans over some time, dwindling their numbers significantly.

Though there are questions raised on the studies, one fact comes clear that relentless industrial hunting was one of the primary reasons for the extinction of great auk. Also, it is a clear indication of the fact that even if a population is not at a declining stage, it might become extinct at the hands of humans.

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Bruce Townsend

I am a Ph.D. astrophysicist, Associate Editor, and science communicator, who professes physics and astronomy at various colleges. I’ve written, online, and in print, for Air & Space, Astronomy, Ars Technica, Discover, Drone360, Gizmodo, Popular Mechanics, and Washington.

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