A new species of large-sized penguin being named Kairuku waewaeroa has been identified from the fossilized bones found in Kawhia Harbour on the North Island of New Zealand.
Life reconstruction of giant penguins. Image credit: Simone Giovanardi.
Kairuku waewaeroa roamed Earth during the Oligocene epoch, between 27 and 35 million years ago.
“The penguin is similar to the Kairuku giant penguins first described from Otago but has much longer legs,” said Dr. Daniel Thomas, a senior lecturer in zoology in the School of Natural and Computational Sciences at Massey University.
“These longer legs would have made the penguin much taller than other Kairuku while it was walking on land, perhaps around 1.4 m (4.6 feet) tall, and may have influenced how fast it could swim or how deep it could dive.”
The holotype skeleton of Kairuku waewaeroa was discovered in 2006 by a group of school children on a Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club (JUNATS) fossil hunting field trip in Kawhia Harbour.
The specimen, which came from the Oligocene deposits of the Glen Massey Formation, is one of the most complete skeletons of a giant penguin yet uncovered.
“Kairuku waewaeroa is emblematic for so many reasons,” Dr. Thomas said.
“The fossil penguin reminds us that we share Zealandia with incredible animal lineages that reach deep into time, and this sharing gives us an important guardianship role.”
“The way the fossil penguin was discovered, by children out discovering nature, reminds us of the importance of encouraging future generations to become kaitiaki guardians.”
“It is something the children involved will remember for the rest of their lives,” said Mike Safey, President of the Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club.
“It was a rare privilege for the kids in our club to have the opportunity to discover and rescue this enormous fossil penguin.”
“We always encourage young people to explore and enjoy the great outdoors. There’s plenty of cool stuff out there just waiting to be discovered.”
The discovery is described in a paper published today in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Simone Giovanardi et al. A giant Oligocene fossil penguin from the North Island of New Zealand. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, published online September 16, 2021; doi: 10.1080/02724634.2021.1953047