REVIEW of REVIEWS

The Great Auk May Still Live

Long Believed Extinct, There is Reason to Believe That it May Not be

J. W. DAY July 1 1933
REVIEW of REVIEWS

The Great Auk May Still Live

Long Believed Extinct, There is Reason to Believe That it May Not be

J. W. DAY July 1 1933

The Great Auk May Still Live

Long Believed Extinct, There is Reason to Believe That it May Not be

J. W. DAY

THE POSSIBILITY that the Great Auk, presumed to be extinct and worth up to £650 as a mere stuffed specimen, still lives, is discussed by J. Wentworth Day in The Passing Show as follows:

“Is the Great Auk, the rarest and most valuable of all European birds, still alive on some remote, rock-girdled island off the Norwegian or Icelandic coasts?

“If so, it means that a bird which is worth up to £650 as a mere stuffed specimen and probably £10,000 alive, is waiting to be caught, eighty-nine years after it was presumed to be extinct.

“Fantastic as such a probability may seem, it takes on a very different and an intensely interesting aspect in the light of information given me just before his death by that erudite ornithologist and worldtraveller, the late Mr. Edward Valpv, F.R.G.S.

“Valpy had been to most of the wild places, including Tibet, Manchuria, Farther India. Malaya, Alaska, and the remote and desolate Lofoden Islands off the northernmost coasts of Norway, within the rim of the Arctic Circle.

“In the Lofodens he rented 50,000 acres of mountain, moor and bog—a small principality of barren wastes and riven rocks, through which ran a tumbling salmon river. The nights were lit by the unearthly radiance of the Northern Lights, the days were brilliant with sun and snow' and crinkled seas.

“And there, one day, the incredible happened. Valpy was sitting in his wooden Norwegian house, turning over the pages of one of the enormous, illustrated bird books which he usually carried about with him. when the Norwegian carpenter, who had been working on the quay, came into the room. His glance was attracted by the page of the book, just as it had fallen open.

“ ‘Ah, that is the strange bird we have seen under the fish-sheds this morning,’ he exclaimed. ‘My comrade and me try to catch him. but he dive like a fish !’

“Valpy looked at the picture which had provoked the excitement. It was a large colored illustration of a Great Auk.

“ ‘It couldn't possibly be,’ he objected, ‘that bird no longer exists. It died out in 1844.'

“But the man stuck to his story. He produced his comrade, who was invited to look through the book and see if he could identify the strange bird of the morning. Without hesitation he put his finger on the picture of the bird which became extinct in 1844. He could not read a word of English. Others who had witnessed the chase of the morning also testified that the picture resembled the bird they had seen.

“Valpy, by nature a person of meticulous observation and scientific mind, the last man likely to jump to hasty conclusions, w'as so impressed with the genuineness of the men’s story that he had fully determined, at the time of his death, to go back to the islands and hunt for the last of the Auks.

“I mentioned this story' to Lord Rothschild. who is a naturalist, and he agreed that it was just possible that the bird might still existbut he doubted the probability of it doing so on the Lofoden Islands. A more likely spot is the remote and inaccessible Auk Island in the grey seas off Iceland.

“No man lives on the Isle of the Gare-fowl. No ship can approach its skerry-riddled shallow's. The great, clumsy birds for whose stuffed skins men pay £500 and £600. are safe there if anywhere.

“There are only seventy-nine known stuffed specimens in the world and seventyfour eggs.”