Prehistoric New Zealand Penguin Was Over Four Feet Tall

Posted on February 28, 2012

Kairuku Penguin

The fossil of a large prehistoric New Zealand penguin has been reconstructed 35 years after the bones were collected in 1977 by Dr. Ewan Fordyce, a paleontologist from the University of Otago, New Zealand. In 2009 and 2011, Dr. Dan Ksepka, North Carolina State University research assistant professor of marine, earth and atmospheric sciences and North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences colleague Dr. Paul Brinkman traveled to New Zealand to aid in the reconstruction of the giant penguin fossil. Their results appear in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The penguin wass named Kairuku after a Maori word that loosely translates to "diver who returns with food." The Kairuku penguins lived on rocky land masses as much of New Zealand was underwater 25 million years ago. Kairuku was one of at least five different species of penguin that lived in New Zealand during the same period.

Dr. Ksepka says, "Kairuku was an elegant bird by penguin standards, with a slender body and long flippers, but short, thick legs and feet. If we had done a reconstruction by extrapolating from the length of its flippers, it would have stood over 6 feet tall. In reality, Kairuku was around 4-feet-2 inches tall or so."

Four feet is very tall for a penguin, but taller penguin fossils have been found. Fossils of penguins as tall as five feet have been found in Peru, see here.

Photo: Artwork by Chris Gaskin, owner and copyright owner: Geology Museum, University of Otago. Used with permission.

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