WI - Cormorant Research Group Species fact-sheets and accounts last updated on 19-09-2001

- Now Extinct -

The Spectacled cormorant / Pallas' cormorant
Phalacrocorax perspicillatus

The Spectacled cormorant (Phalacrocorax perspicillatus), a large, nearly flightless seabird lived on a few remote islands at the western end of the Aleutian chain. This species was first identified in 1741 by the naturalist George Steller, who traveled with the explorer Vitus Bering on his voyage of exploration and discovery of Alaska. Steller discovered the large, black birds while shipwrecked on a tiny island in the western Aleutians. This island was later named Bering Island because Vitus Bering and many of his crew died there during the long winter after the shipwreck. In midwinter, the stranded sailors, Steller among them, began killing the slow-moving and unwary cormorants for food. Steller wrote, "They weighed 12-14 pounds, so that one single bird was sufficient for 3 starving men." Like other cormorants, the spectacled cormorant fed on fish. Almost nothing else is known about this extinct bird.
Steller was the only naturalist to see the spectacled cormorant alive. Others learned of the species through Steller's writing and brought specimens into museums in 1837. The population of spectacled cormorants declined quickly as whalers, fur traders and Aleut Natives (brought to Bering Island by the Russian-American Company) killed the birds for food and feathers. By 1850, fewer than 100 years after Steller first saw these seabirds, the spectacled cormorant became extinct. Steller's records, six specimens, and two skeletons are the only evidence that this species existed fewer than 200 years ago.

Information from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game - Wildlife Conservation

Literature on the species

Johnsgard P. A. 1993. CORMORANTS, DARTERS AND PELICANS OF THE WORLD. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London. Pp. 445.

PaIrngren P. 1935. Ein Exemplar von Phalacrocorax perspicillatus Pall. in den SammIungen des zoologischen Museums in Helsingfors. Ornis Fennica, 12:78-80.

Stejneger L. 1889. Contribution to the history of the Pallas' cormorant. Proc. U. S. Natl. Mus., 12:83-88.