Researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of Otago, New Zealand, presented the first complete reconstruction of an Oligocene New Zealand penguin in the February 27, 2012, issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Three skeletons collected from the late Oligocene Kokoamu Greensand of New Zealand were used to determine the new species named Kairuku waitaki and Kairuku grebneffi. The original bones were discovered in 1977. The fossils date to approximately 25 million years ago.
The new species were large. They may have weighed as much as sixty to eighty pounds and stood about 4 feet high.
Kairuku had a long narrow chest bone (sternum), long narrow flippers, and strong legs. These species have a very small parson’s nose (pygostyle) that suggest these penguins did not use their tail as a support like modern penguins do. The tail is more bird like than modern penguins.
There are now five known species of penguins that inhabited New Zealand during the Oligocene time period. Kairuku is the largest penguin species from the Oligocene found to date.
Daniel T. Ksepka and Dr. Paul Brinkman, North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and R. Ewan Fordyce, Tatsuro Ando, Craig M. Jones from the University of Otago, New Zealand, were responsible for the reconstruction in a press release at the Eureka Alert web site on February 27, 2012.
“New Fossil Penguins (Aves, Sphenisciformes) from the Oligocene of New Zealand Reveal the Skeletal Plan of Stem Penguins”