Scientists reconstruct ancient penguin

Feb. 28, 2012 at 2:41 PM   |   Comments

DUNEDIN, New Zealand, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Paleontologists say they have reconstructed a giant prehistoric penguin species from fossils first found in New Zealand 35 years ago.

Ewan Fordyce, a paleontologist at New Zealand's University of Otago, discovered the 25-million-year-old bones -- nearly enough to create an entire skeleton -- in 1977 and has recently been working with researchers at North Carolina State to determine what the huge penguin would have looked like, theregister.co.uk reported Tuesday.

The giant penguin, dubbed Kairuku after the Maori for "diver who returns with food", was one of at least five different species of penguin living during the Oligocene period, researchers said.

At a bit more than four feet tall, Kairuku was more than a foot taller than the modern Emperor penguin, with a long narrow bill and narrow wing bones, they said.

"Kairuku was an elegant bird by penguin standards, with a slender body and long flippers, but short, thick legs and feet," Dan Ksepka of North Carolina State University said.

"This species gives us a more complete picture of these giant penguins generally, and may help us to determine how great their range was during the Oligocene period," he said.

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