The Great Auk…A Poetic Extinction

Portrait: Johannes Gerardus Keulemans
Portrait: Johannes Gerardus Keulemans

I shared this quite a while back on Thriving Oceans, but thought this would also be an appropriate forum as well considering it is bird and extinction related.  It is a brief poetic retelling of the Great Auk’s demise; a trend that began in the mid 1500s and continued until their disappearance in the 1800s.  I don’t recall the setting or reason for inscribing this in my notebook, but the year was 2003…and by no means do I make any promises as to being a professional (poet that is).  But, perhaps it may shed a little light on the reasons for the extinction of the Great Auk.

The Great Auk
By Scott Artis (Nov. 19, 2003)

In the sixteenth, the year twenty four;
no one could foresee the danger in store.
Being black and white with a beak like a crow;
they’d fly through the water, beneath the surface they’d flow
Thriving in colonies this flightless, penguin-like bird;
a home in the New World, quite undisturbed.
Two decades since the onslaught ensued;
foods, fats and oils the crew they did use.

In the seventeenth, the year thirty four;
their importance to fleets had never been more.
The fishing of Grand Banks were all but unbound;
their continued exploitation came not close to sound.
Eye witness accounts, herded into the holds;
doomed in the bowels, the horrors unfold.
The discourse of time had shown few concerns;
the indiscriminate will of man, who did not discern.

In the eighteenth, the year seventy five;
the Council of Newfoundland a petition they cried.
Penalties delivered for feathers and eggs;
but taking of birds was still used as bait.
Summer on the islands, men they did bunk;
a boat laden with sea birds, from the Island of Funk.
Fowlers would plunder:  eggs, feathers and meat;
a colony diminished, the cost would be steep.

In the nineteenth, the year forty four;
the isle of Eldey, still a few more?
The last two and egg were all that remained;
three men in a boat, the expedition did came.
The male and female went on display;
the last known egg, sold that same day.
Blamed on the naturalists, it was not the fleets;
Victorian science caused their defeat.

In the nineteenth, the year forty four;
a battle was lost, the Great Auk no more.

About The Author

Scott serves as Director of Development & Communications for Audubon Canyon Ranch (focusing on preservation, education and conservation science) and has almost fifteen years of experience spanning for-profit and nonprofit sectors in biotech, wildlife conservation and management, communications, and philanthropy. In addition to a strong track record in organizational growth and leadership, he is the founder of Urban Bird Foundation and Burrowing Owl Conservation Network, and presided over ECHO Fund, a coastal protection and restoration organization, as President for four years. Scott holds an M.A. in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Sustainable Development and Policy, degrees in Micro & Molecular Biology and Environmental Sciences, and has complemented his studies with a Master's certificate in Environmental Resource Management.

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