Fossilised remains of one of the largest penguins ever, an “elegant” giant standing 1.3 metres (52 inches) tall, have been found in New Zealand, scientists said Tuesday.
The penguin lived 27-24 million years ago, when New Zealand was mostly underwater and consisted of isolated, rocky outcrops that offered protection from predators and plentiful food supplies, researchers said.
The first traces of the penguin, dubbed Kairuku — Maori for diver who returns with food — was found embedded in a cliff at Waimate in the South Island by University of Otago paleontologist professor Ewen Fordyce in 1977.
Over the years, Fordyce discovered more complete remains and invited University of North Carolina specialist Dan Ksepka to help reconstruct the lost giant in 2009.
They determined the bird was much larger than the biggest modern penguin, the Emperor, which grows up to 1.0-metres, and weighed in at 60 kilograms (132 pounds), twice as much as the Emperor.
“Kairuku was an elegant bird by penguin standards, with a slender body and long flippers, but short, thick legs and feet,” Ksepka said.
Fordyce said the bird’s large size was an adaption that allowed it to swim further and dive deeper than its modern-day counterparts.
He was unsure why it became extinct, suggesting climate change or increased predation from dolphins and seals as possible reasons for its demise.
The findings were published in the latest edition of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
In 2010 scientists reported finding a fossilised specimen from 36 million years ago estimated to have been 1.5 metres tall.