The great auk (Pinguinus impennis) was a species of flightless alcid that became extinct in the mid-19th century. It was the only modern species in the genus Pinguinus. Garefowl, Penguin, Pinwing, Gordo, Moyacks, Great Apponath, Geirfuglar, Wobble, Binocle – these are some of the names givenen the Great Auk by people who lived on the Coast of Europe, north to Iceland, Greenland to Newfoundland and down the eastern seaboard of North America.
The great Auk lived most of its life at sea and had the average lifespan of approximately 20 to 25 years in the wild. It was approximately 75 to 85 centimeters (30 to 33 inches) tall and weighed about 5 kilograms (11 pounds). It was the largest alcid to survive into the modern era and the second-largest member of the alcid family overall, surpassed only by the prehistoric Miomancalla. The wings were only 15 cm (6 in) long, rendering the bird flightless but they were swift and agile swimmers, able to dive to great depths and was known to dive up to 245 feet on average to catch its prey. The great auk was an important part of many Native American cultures, both as a food source and as a symbolic item. It was also present in a wide variety of works of fiction and art
By 1800 the last population of Great Auk found refuge on a remote Island off the coast of Iceland. In 1830, a volcanic eruption pulled the island beneath the waters of the sea, leaving the fragile population adrift. The remaining few took refuge just off the southwestern tip of Iceland on Eldey Island, unfortunately with in a easy reach of man that hunted it for food, bait, and feathers. The last documented pair of great Auks was killed on Eldey Island off the coast of Iceland on June 1844.
For some years Todd McGrain has been focusing his strengths as a sculptor towards the creation of memorials to birds driven to extinction in modern times including the Passanger Pigion, the Carolina Parakeet, the Labrador Duck, the Heathen hen and the Great Auk. Through the generous support of private benefactors, institutional support and personal funds, he completed the great Auk memmorial. His ambition is to permanently place this memorial at a site with historical significance to the bird and where it will have a meaningful impact on the way we interpret the land. This sculpture is a gift to the community of Reykjanesbær. McGrain has received several grants and awards, including the Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. McGrain’s work reflects his commitment to environmental conservation and the preservation of natural history through art and documentary filmmaking.