It has been a painstaking process taking over 35 years but scientists have finally pieced together various fossils to create the fully formed skeleton of a giant penguin, which last walked the Earth some 26 million years ago.
The penguin, named Kairuku after the Maori word for “diver who returns with food,” stood 4′ 2” tall and weighed around 132 pounds, making it nearly a foot taller and 50 percent heavier than its largest modern relative, the Emperor Penguin.
Fossils of the Kairuku Penguin, which lived during the Oligocene period, were first discovered 35 years ago by Ewan Fordyce, a professor of geology at New Zealand’s University of Otago. Working with Dan Ksepka, a research assistant professor at North Carolina State University, Fordyce was able to reconstruct a full skeleton of the penguin using fossils from three main specimens.
Kairuku lived during time when most of New Zealand was under water. The isolated rocky land masses that remained above the waterline are believed to have provided the penguins a safe haven from predators as well as plentiful access to food, which they caught using their long, spear-like beaks.
Fordyce told the Associated Press that the penguins could have gone extinct because of climate change, the arrival of new predators or increased competition for food from seals and other animals.
The research on Kairuku was published this week in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.