Monster penguins swam New Zealand oceans
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Scientists in New Zealand said they’ve found fossilized bones from an extinct monster penguin that was about the size of an adult human and swam the oceans some 60 million years ago.
They said the previously undiscovered species is believed to have stood 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed up to 176 pounds. It’s believed to have been one of several species of giant penguins that thrived soon after dinosaurs died out.
The findings were published last week in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology.
Paul Scofield, a co-author of the paper and senior curator at the Canterbury Museum, said the discovery is significant because the species is similar to another giant penguin found in Antarctica in 2000 and helps show a connection between the two regions during the Paleocene Epoch.
He said that following the extinction of dinosaurs, marine reptiles and gigantic fish, it seemed there was an evolutionary opportunity for penguins to thrive and grow in size.
“The oceans were ripe for the picking with the lack of mega predators,” Scofield said. “It looks like what was going on was that penguins were just starting to exploit that niche.”
But he said the giant penguins became extinct within 30 million years as large marine mammals began ruling the waters.
The monster penguins, named Crossvallia waiparensis, would have been about twice the weight and 1 foot taller than the largest type of penguins alive today, emperor penguins.
Scofield said the leg bones indicated the monster penguin’s feet may have played a bigger role in swimming than is the case with penguins today.
New Zealand is also believed to have been the site of many gigantic birds that later became extinct.
This illustration shows the approximate height of a giant penguin, a “crossvallia waiparensis” next to a human being.