'Human-Sized Penguin' Uncovered by New Zealand Schoolchildren Reveals Ancient Species
01:11 GMT 17.09.2021 (Updated: 17:13 GMT 12.04.2023)
A giant, child-sized penguin whose fossilized remains were first discovered by New Zealand schoolchildren has been revealed as a new species.
In January 2006, schoolchildren from the Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club set out on an expedition to fossil hunt at New Zealand's Kawhia Harbour when they came across some rare bones.
Mike Safely, president of the Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club, says this is an experience that the children involved will remember for the rest of their lives.
“It was a rare privilege for the kids in our club to have the opportunity to discover and rescue this enormous fossil penguin.”
“Finding fossils near where we live reminds us that we share our environment with animals who are the descendants of lineages that reach back into deep time,” added Safely.
Scientists from across the globe immediately made their way to New Zealand to identify the discovery.
Researchers from Massey University and Bruce Museum in the US came together at the Waikato Museum in Hamilton to analyze the fossil.
Paleontologists used 3D scanning technology to compare the fossil with digital versions of bones from around the world.
Dr. Daniel Thomas, a senior lecturer in zoology from Massey’s School of Natural and Computational Sciences, determined that the fossil was between 27.3 million and 34.6 million years old.
Thomas compared the identified species to the Kairaku penguins that were first described from Otago, but with much longer legs.
"These longer legs would have made the penguin much taller than other Kairuku species while it was walking on land; perhaps around 1.4m tall, and may have influenced how fast it could swim or how deep it could dive."
“It’s been a real privilege to contribute to the story of this incredible penguin. We know how important this fossil is to so many people,” he adds.
New Zealand is known to hold the oldest penguin fossils dating back to the dinosaur era. Continued exploration and finding of new fossils will provide more knowledge to scientists on how they evolved into the creatures living in Antarctica today.