July 3

Originally published on July 3, 2004.
Last updated on June 10, 2016.

Every
Year
July 3 is the 184th day of the year (185th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 181 days remaining until the end of the year.
1884 The last pair of great auks (Pinguinus impennis) were killed, making the species extinct.

Only known illustration of a Great Auk drawn from life, Ole Worm’s pet received from the Faroe Islands, which was figured in his book Museum Wormianum (1655).

Only known illustration of a Great Auk drawn from life, Ole Worm’s pet received from the Faroe Islands, which was figured in his book Museum Wormianum (1655).

The last colony of great auks lived on the islet of Geirfuglasker (the “Great Auk Rock”) off the coast of Iceland. This islet was a volcanic rock surrounded by cliffs which made it inaccessible to humans, but the islet submerged after a volcanic eruption in 1830 and the birds moved to the nearby island of Eldey, which was accessible from a single side. When the colony was initially discovered in 1835, nearly fifty birds were present.

Museums, desiring the skins of the auk for preservation and display, quickly began collecting birds from the colony. The last pair, found incubating an egg, was killed there on July 3, 1844. Jón Brandsson and Sigurður Ísleifsson strangled the adults and Ketill Ketilsson smashed the egg with his boot. Ísleifsson described the act as follows:

“The rocks were covered with blackbirds [referring to Guillemots] and there were the Geirfugles … They walked slowly. Jón Brandsson crept up with his arms open. The bird that Jón got went into a corner but [mine] was going to the edge of the cliff. It walked like a man … but moved its feet quickly. [I] caught it close to the edge—a precipice many fathoms deep. Its wings lay close to the sides—not hanging out. I took him by the neck and he flapped his wings. He made no cry. I strangled him.”

Great Auk specimen in Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. This specimen is possibly one of the two last great auks that were killed in Iceland on July 3, 1844.

Great Auk specimen in Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. This specimen is possibly one of the two last great auks that were killed in Iceland on July 3, 1844.

The great auk was a flightless bird. It was the only modern species in the genus Pinguinus (unrelated to penguins, although it was the first bird to be called penguin). It bred on rocky, isolated islands with easy access to the ocean and a plentiful food supply, a rarity in nature that provided only a few breeding sites for the auks. When not breeding, the auks spent their time foraging in the waters of the North Atlantic, ranging as far south as northern Spain and also around the coast of Canada, Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Norway, Ireland, and Great Britain.

The great auk was 30–33 inches (75–85 cm) tall and weighed around 11 pounds (5 kg), making it the second largest member of the alcid family (Miomancalla was larger). The wings were only 5.9 inches (15 cm) long, rendering the bird flightless. Instead, the auk was a powerful swimmer, a trait that it used in hunting. Its favorite prey were fish and crustaceans. Although agile in the water, it was clumsy on land. Great auk pairs mated for life. They nested in extremely dense and social colonies, laying one egg on bare rock. Both parents incubated the egg for about six weeks before the young hatched. The young auk left the nest site after two or three weeks although the parents continued to care for it.

The great auk was an important part of many Native American cultures, both as a food source and as a symbolic item. Early European explorers to the Americas used the auk as a convenient food source or as fishing bait, reducing its numbers. The bird’s down was in high demand in Europe, a factor which largely eliminated the European populations by the mid-16th century. Scientists soon began to realize that the great auk was disappearing and it became the beneficiary of many early environmental laws, but this proved not to be enough. Its growing rarity increased interest from European museums and private collectors in obtaining skins and eggs of the bird.

1971 Died today: Jim Morrison (December 8, 1943–July 3, 1971, age 27)

James Douglas “Jim” Morrison was an American singer, songwriter, and poet best remembered as the lead singer of The Doors.

1991 Born today: Cassandra Sánchez Navarro (July 3, 1991– )
Cassandra Sánchez Navarro

Cassandra Sánchez Navarro


She is known for her TV series roles as Chelito Durán in Crown of Tears (2012–2013), as Flavia in Quiero Amarte (2013–2014), as Verónica in Shadows of the Past (2015), and as the Nun in Sense8 (2015).

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