Giant Penguin? Fossils Show They Were as Tall as Humans

Scientists Have Discovered The Fossil Of A Man Sized Penguin On A NZ Beach

Scientists have published evidence of a prehistoric penguin, found in New Zealand, that was about as tall as the average man.

Some 60 million years ago, a penguin as tall as Kanye West walked the shores of New Zealand. Kumimanu tops all other giant penguins by at least 7 inches (18 centimeters) But what makes Kumimanu particularly exciting is its age - it's the earliest giant penguin scientists have found so far.

The bird could look you right in the eye, being about as tall as an adult human: "1.77 meters, about 5'10".

While the fossils suggest huge, hefty ancient penguin, the largest living penguin, the Emperor penguin, is a good bit shorter - around 4 feet.

"Painstaking extraction work slowly revealed that the rock contained a multitude of jumbled bones of a colossal penguin", Tennyson said.

They suggest that the giant penguins developed soon after the mass extinction about 66 million years ago which wiped out around 75 percent of plants and animals on Earth including, famously, the dinosaurs.

Kumimanu means "monster bird" in Māori. The fossils are 56 million to 60 million years old. Then there wasIcadyptes salasi, which was nearly 5 feet tall and lived in what is now Peru about 36 million years ago.

Outside of its significance as a new discovery, it's also one of the oldest ancient penguin fossils ever found.

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The discovery shows that the penguins "got big very rapidly", according to Mayr. Only this time they weren't reptiles but mammals - like toothed whales and seals.

'The disappearance of giant penguins indeed coincides with the rise of marine mammals, that is, whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals, but the exact causes and mechanisms of a competitive replacement remain poorly understood.

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The study's authors have also been able to piece together that, unlike the penguin of today, the ancient bird's beak was longer, Mayr said.

It's hard to know how similar K. biceae looked to modern day penguins, the tallest of which is the emperor penguin that stands at 1.1 metres.

Although penguins can swim at speeds of around 22 miles per hour and are extremely well suited to aquatic life, their evolution has left them with stumpy legs and an inability to fly. The fossil, named Kumimanu biceae, is about a foot and a half taller. This newly discovered penguin was around 5-foot-10.

It's one of the biggest penguins that ever existed, coming in at just under the size of extinct Late Eocene Antarctic penguin Palaeeudyptes klekowskii, which was 2 metres long and weighed 115 kilograms. He was part of the team that studied the fossil. On land or sea the stocky bird tipped the scales at about 220 pounds (100 kilograms).

JULIA CLARKE: I mean, what's not cool about a human-sized penguin? And it's believed that gigantism in penguins may have come earlier than previously thought, possibly shortly after the birds became flightless divers, according to the study. The seas were relatively empty back then, and so it probably had all the room to grow big.

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