Great Auk Sculpture at Valahnúkamöl – Iceland - Atlas Obscura

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Great Auk Sculpture at Valahnúkamöl

This five-foot-tall bronze bird is a memorial to a species that was hunted out of existence. 


This bronze statue of the now-extinct great auk overlooks the impressive sea cliffs where these birds once nested. The statue in the Reykjanes peninsula was created by the artist Todd McGrain. It is one of several works that he has done as part of his Lost Bird Project. The series includes sculptures of several extinct avian species, placed in the last location they were known to live.

The statue stands about five feet tall and there is an information board about both the artist and the bird. The great auk (Pinguinus impennis) was a flightless bird that became extinct in the mid-19th century. It was the first bird to be called penguin, though these birds were not related to the penguins of the southern hemisphere.

The great auk bred on isolated rocky islands with easy access to the ocean and a good food supply. This situation is rare and there were only a few breeding sites for the auks. The site of the sculpture is significant. The last two confirmed specimens were killed on Eldey, which can be seen about 10 miles offshore from the cliffs, on July 3, 1844. This also destroyed the last known breeding attempt. There have been later reports of dispersed individuals being seen or caught  but these are unconfirmed. There is a similar sculpture in Canada, also created by McGrain.

Know Before You Go

As you drive the coast road west from Grindavik the road turns to the north and passes a large geothermal plant. Take the first left after the plant and then the first left again. You will reach a T junction with the obvious Reykjanesviti lighthouse on top of a hill to your right. Drive past it around the hill and you will arive at the parking lot.

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