The story of the King of the Gannets as written in:
Offprint of "Videnskabelige Meddelelser fra den naturhistoriske Forening i København, 1894".
Diomeda melanophrys, living in The Faroes.
Af Knud Andersen.
Presented the 23th of November 1894.
Mr. P. F. Petersen on Nolsø. Faroe Islands, send me in May 1894 a message, that an albatross was shut on Mykines Holmur, where it for 30 years had lived among the gannets. Further information, especially about the very many years it had been seen, was not at that time known to Mr. Petersen. In the beginning of July I received the skin of the bird. (See the pictures by clicking here.) And it showed up to be a Diomedea melanophrys, Boie, an old bird in a very beautiful plumage; it was, when I received it, very fresh and perfectly skinned by Mr. Petersen. I later found out, that the entrails was not preserved.
As soon as I had received the bird, I send a questionnaire to Mr. Petersen with questions aiming at the most perfect information about the life of the bird and especially about the reasons on which it was believed, that the bird had stayed so many years on Mykines Holmur. The answers came to me in the beginning of November, with a letter from Mr. Petersen, telling that he had send the questions to Mykines, where they had been answered by Mr. S. J. Joensen, who lives on this island.
The filled in questionnaire read like this:
Nb. 8 and 4 are answered by Mr. Petersen on Nolsø, all others by Mr. S. J. Joensen on Mykines.
1. On which date was the albatross shut?
It was shut on the 11.th of May.
2. Where was it shut?
It was shut on Mykines Holmur sitting among the gannets.
3. Was it a male or female?
4. In the latter case, had it well developed ovaries?
By opening the bird I saw almost fully developed yolk of egg.
5. Are there few or many who have seen the bird for 30 years?
There are many who have seen the bird for 34 years.
6. Has it always been on or just around Mykines or had it rambled far and near among the islands?
As well as is known, it has only been around and close to Mykines Holmur.
7. Was it staying all the year with Mykines or was it so, that it on some seasons was away and regularly returned at other times?
It only stayed with Mykines Holmur from spring to autumn, it came regularly with the gannets and left with the gannets.
8. Is it sure, that there was only this one?
It is generally assumed, that there was only this one, as only one has been seen at one time.
9. If confirmed and in the case it was a female, is it then known, that it has nested or laid eggs?
No, one has ever seen it either building a nest or laying eggs, but as it only has been among the gannets, it can not be known for sure, as there is not that much associating with the gannets from the time they lay their eggs to the young birds are fully fledged.
10. Is it known what the bird lived of?
No, nobody knows.
11. Had it the habit to follow ships or boats?
It showed no inclination to follow boats, though it is not known in the case of ships.
12. Was it normally silent or has any one ever heard its shriek and it the case, can it then be written in letters or compared with something to, illumine haw it sounded?
It was usually silent and nobody has ever heard it screaming.
18. Is it so, that it both was living among the gannets and was seen flying with them or was it also searching company with other birds and if the case, which? Or was it mostly solitary
It lived among the gannets and flew with them.
14. Has it ever been seen swimming?
15. Has there ever before been attempts to shoot it?
16. Was it very shy, or was it possible to come close to?
It was as shy as the gannets.
17. Was it known, for all these years, that it was an albatross, or was if first later on discovered?
It has not been known, that it was an albatross until now, that it has been shut.
18. Are there any, who for sure can remember when the bird was seen for the first time on the Faroes? - or why it is said, that it is around 30 year since, no more nor less?
It can be said for sure, that it for the first time was seen on Mykines Holmur in April or May 1860, so it is in the year 1894 34 year since it was seen for the first time.
19. Is it known, that the plumage has changed in this long span of time? Or was it for many years ago darker coloured?
It has had the same colour all the time it has been seen.
20. Is it possible to tell more about the bird, than has been asked about here. om?
The last question was not answered. --- Mr. Petersen also send me the following letter, which he had received from Mr. Joensen along the answers to the above questions:
Mykines, the 13.th of October 1894.
Along with the arrival of the questions about the albatross on Mykines, I write this. As we wasn't at home, the answers on the questions was left on Mykines, when the ship went away .... I hereby send the questions to You answered, so You can see what is written.
Another letter has also arrived though not for me *) with questions about the albatross, reading in a similar way, and I will tell You that some of the questions has the names of some of the people who has seeing the bird for these many years and also the name of the person who shut the bird. It was shut by Johannes Frederik and seen by Samuel Joensen, Jacob Jensen, Jacob Jacobsen, Hejne Jørgensen, Joen Joensen junior; Joen Abrahamsen, Poul Abrahamsen, Jacob Isaksen, Daniel Joensen; these and even more people has seen the bird for 34 consecutive years.
*) The hereby mentioned letter was send by Viceconsul Bergh in Thorshavn to Pastor Johansen on Vaagø, and by him again to Mykines, pp.247-248.
I can also tell You, that in September the year 1891 a strange young gannet was caught; if was more fair coloured than young gannets normally are and it had a bill nearly as the albatross, the wings were as the gannets and everybody was wondering and thought that it was the young of the that bird. Nobody knew that it was an albatross, before it was shut; the old called it the King of the Gannets.
Samuel Johannes Joensen.
These two writings gives all important information. I have not hesitated to bring the answers of Mr. Joensen and his letter. Both their form and contents show how informed he is and how exact and conscientious he has been in order to write what he know and no more.. -----
Long before I received the above mentioned writings, the British Viceconsul in Thorshavn, Mr. L. Bergh, rendered me assistance in gathering valuable information on the case. In the following letter Mr. Bergh tells me the result of his activities:
Thorshavn, the 22.th of October 1894.
Your letter of the 18. last month I have received and it is a pleasure for me, to tell You the information, I until now has been able to gather.
I have been so lucky to meet a very trustworthy man on Mykines who's name is Jacob Isaksen, "Kongsbonde" on the island, 50 years of age. He told me that he was sure that the albatross has been at least 3O years on Mykines; because he was close to be 20, when he saw it and heard people talking about it; and ever since he had seen it every year. It regularly flew away with the gannets in autumn and returned with them in spring.
There has never been seen any other than this one.
It has never build a nest or laid eggs.
It was among the gannets on the mountain, but these moved away, when it was coming close and according to his explanation it only seemed to be tolerated by them; not being in a friendly relation to them.
He had never seen it flying in over the island but often over the sea and never seen it diving.
It has never been shut at, but it has been tried to catch it alive but they has never succeeded in doing so. Because when people was on the shelfs in the night, it always was awake and shy, being approached and flew away, while the gannets were asleep and could be taken on the nests.
A young man from Sørvaag Vaagø, now married on Mykines, with the name Hans Pauli Hansen, saw it this summer sitting on a rock, aimed at it, without the intention to shoot it, an though it was on a long distance, he hit it and it fell down dead.
Apart from that he didn't know anything about the habits of the bird.
It is beyond any doubt, that the bird has been on Mykines in at least 30 years; I clearly remember, that I shortly after being a teacher in Thorshavns Realskole, for more than 27 years ago, heard about "The King of the Gannets", which was the name which usually was used.
As it is seldom people from Mykines come to Thorshavn and especially in the winter almost never, I have written a letter to the vicar in Vaagø parish, with the purpose of gathering more information but regrettable he will not come to Mykines until next summer. But he has kindly send the questions from You to a very reliable man on the island, but when I will receive an answer, is unknown.
I hereby send You the above information and will as soon as I get more information write to You....
It can be seen that this story at only one minor point is not in accordance with that of Mr. Joensen. The name of the person who shut the bird is different. --
But even this little discrepancy was before I expected it, eliminated. Already in December I received the information gathered by Vicar Johansen on Vaagø via Viceconsul Bergh. They originate from a man on Mykines, Mr. Joen Abrahamsen, one of them who for many years had seen the albatross, and is in all essentials like this:
1. "It is for sure, that it for the first time was seen in 1860 by 12-14 men, who in Spring searched the gannets on Mykines Holmur. It has regularly been seen every year since then by more persons, namely them who have been catching the gannets on the Holm, and that this year is not a coincidence is seen by the fact, that the "Kongsbonde" Jacob Joensen in 1860 saw it for the first time as he participated in the catch of the gannets the year after he was confirmed."
2. ,,The bird has not been hunted in this whole span of time, but only in the same way as the gannets in the night, but as it not have been met among the gannets in the night, one has not succeeded, but as it always has been seen in the morning among the gannets, it has once almost been caught by the bare hands; likewise it has now and then been pursued (and almost been caught) with "Flejestang". But the main reason that it not has been that much pursued is, that it always has been among the gannets and as these birds, as known from being young to growing old are changing colours, it was quite alike the gannets in colour, though wings and bill were different. Because of that it by the most people was assumed to be a strange gannet as albatross they had never heard about,"
[3. The account about the spring and autumn migrations is repeated.
4 . One and only one albatross has been seen.]
5. "If it has build nest and laid eggs can not be known for sure; it is supposed that is not has done that, because no one has seen it, although nobody are among the gannets from the time they lay eggs to the young birds are almost fledged."
6. "It has been seen by many, among others by Jacob Jensen, Kongsbonde, Odelsmand Jacob Jacobsen the older, Joen Joensen, Joen Abrahamsen, Jacob Isaksen, Samuel J. Joensen. It was shut by Johannes Frederik Joensen; they are all from Mykines." [The latter name is by no doubt the right one; Mr. Viceconsul Bergh has later on confirmed this in another way.]
7. "About its way of life, especially its feeding no one is able to inform about, but its activities has been around the Holm; the first years it mainly was on the north side of the Holm. where most of the gannets are, now later on mostly on the Western part of the Holm, where fewer gannets are; where it at the end was shut from a boat below."