Children's Field Trip Yields New Penguin Species

Kairuku waewaeroa lived eons ago in New Zealand
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 17, 2021 9:20 AM CDT
Schoolkids Discover New Species of Penguin
An emperor penguin. The newly identified species would have been significantly larger.   (Getty/Tsvyatko Terziev)

The Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club lived up to its name—its school-aged members are credited with discovering a new species of giant penguin. The discovery of the fossil actually occurred back in 2006 in New Zealand, but researchers didn't identify the new species until this week in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. The giant penguin identified as Kairuku waewaeroa lived about 30 million years ago, and the second word in that description translates to "long legs," reports the Guardian.

The penguin probably stood about 4-foot-6, making it taller than today's emperor penguins, known to reach a height of about 4-foot-2 or so, per Courthouse News Service. The long legs likely helped it dive deeper and swim faster in a region that was largely underwater when the penguin lived. The young naturalists had been on a field trip in Waikato, New Zealand, when they kayaked into Kawhia Harbor and discovered what is perhaps the most complete skeleton of an ancient giant penguin ever found.

"It's sort of surreal to know that a discovery we made as kids so many years ago is contributing to academia today," says Steffan Safey, a member of the group who was 13 at the time. "And it's a new species even." As a release at Science Daily notes, the fossil record of penguins goes back to the age of the dinosaurs, and discoveries like this can reveal information not only about the penguins but about the ecology of the time. The club donated the fossil to the Te Whare Taonga o Waikato museum, and researchers from New Zealand’s Massey University and the Bruce Museum of Greenwich, Connecticut, conducted the research. (More penguins stories.)

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