Researchers Say Giant Fossilized Penguin Discovered by New Zealand Schoolchildren in 2006 is a New Species

The Kawhia giant penguin Kairuku waewaeroa. Credit: Simone Giovanardi

A giant fossilized penguin discovered by New Zealand school children has been revealed as a new species in the peer-reviewed Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology by Massey University researchers.

Penguins have a  reaching almost as far back as the age of the dinosaurs, and the most ancient of these penguins have been discovered in Aotearoa. Fossil penguins from Zealandia (ancient Aotearoa) are mostly known from Otago and Canterbury although important discoveries have recently been made in Taranaki and Waikato.

In 2006 a group of school children on a Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club (JUNATS) fossil hunting field trip in Kawhia Harbour, led by the club’s fossil expert Chris Templer, discovered the bones of a giant fossil penguin.

Researchers from Massey University and Bruce Museum (Connecticut, United States) visited Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato to analyze the fossil bones of the ancient penguin. The team used 3D scanning as part of their investigation and compared the fossil to digital versions of bones from around the world. 3D scanning also meant the team could produce a 3D-printed replica of the fossil for the Hamilton Junior naturalists. The actual penguin fossil was donated by the club to the Waikato Museum in 2017.

Dr. Daniel Thomas, a Senior Lecturer in Zoology from Massey’s School of Natural and Computational Sciences, says the fossil is between 27.3 and 34.6 million years old and is from a time when much of the Waikato was under water.

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SOURCE:, Taylor & Francis