So it turns out New Zealand was home to the tallest and heaviest ever known penguin. It stood nearly 5 feet tall and tipped the scales at around 130 pounds, according to a 27-million-year-old fossil found in New Zealand.
The penguin, Kairuku grebneffi lived in what is now New Zealand and likely speared fish and squid with its curved beak. In comparison, today's largest penguin is the Emperor penguin, which measures just over 3 feet tall and weighs approximately 85 pounds.
Yet another new big fossil penguin, Kairuku waitaki, was also recently discovered. It lived alongside K. grebneffi. The finds by an international team of researchers was described in the latest Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
"The Kairuku penguins were the last generation of so-called "giant penguins," the term indicating any fossil penguins that were much larger than the living largest Emperor penguin," co-author Tatsuro Ando of the Ashoro Museum of Paleontology in Japan told Discovery News.
Ando explained that these big flightless birds emerged around 50 million years ago and thrived for about 25 million years before dying out. It remains a mystery as to why they disappeared, "but probably the drastic change in paleoenvironment was the cause of their demise," he said.
The researchers, led by Daniel Ksepka of North Carolina State University, analyzed the near-complete fossils for the penguins, which were unearthed at New Zealand's Waitaki Region. This area was known as Zealandia during prehistoric times, and it was a veritable penguin paradise.
"For much of its history, New Zealand has been sitting in the middle of the Southern Ocean, the sea that circles Antarctica," co-author Ewan Fordyce of Otago University told Discovery News. "For millions of years, it has provided suitable land for rookeries (breeding grounds) and access to rich food resources in nearby seas."
To this day, New Zealand is a center of diversity for penguins. Out of the 17 existing species of penguin, six live and breed in New Zealand.
The two new fossil species, from a distance, would have looked like modern penguins, Fordyce said.
"Up close, however, it is clear that both species had relatively longer bills and a more slender body than in living species," he explained. "The wing was probably able to flex a little more."
Their long beaks would have enabled these penguins to spear prey, such as fish and squid. Sharks and shark-toothed dolphins, a type of prehistoric super strong dolphin with heavily toothed jaws, probably hunted the enormous penguins, which could have snapped back with their beaks.
From Discovery News - rest of article available here
Photo also from Discovery News