Scientists find human-sized penguin fossil

Scientists have found fossilized bones of an extinct giant penguin the size of a human and that swam in the oceans about 60 million years ago.

New Zealand scientists said Wednesday they have found fossilized bones of an extinct penguin the size of a modern adult human that swam in the oceans about 60 million years ago.

They said the previously undiscovered species is believed to be 1.6 meters (5 feet 2 inches) tall and weighed up to 80 kilograms (176 pounds). It is believed to be one of several species of giant penguins that thrived shortly after the dinosaurs became extinct.

The findings were published this week in the journal “Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology.”

The monstrous penguins, called Crossvallia waiparensis, would have been about twice the weight of the largest type of penguins alive today, the emperor penguins. They would also have been 30 centimeters (1 foot) taller.

Paul Scofield, a co-author of the paper and lead curator of the Canterbury Museum, said that the extinction of dinosaurs, marine reptiles and gigantic fish appears to have been an evolutionary opportunity for penguins to thrive and grow in size.

“The oceans were on edge due to the lack of mega-predators,” Scofield said. “It seems that what was happening is that the penguins were beginning to exploit that niche.”

However, he said the giant penguins became extinct in 30 million years as large marine mammals began to dominate the waters.

The fossilized bones of the giant penguin, corresponding to its legs and feet, were found about 18 months ago by a hobbyist, Leigh Love, in the bed of the Waipara River, near the city of Christchurch.

Love said his passion for collecting fossils began about 14 years ago after chronic fatigue syndrome prevented him from working for several years. The scientists’ announcement “inspires me to go out and find more,” he said.

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* With AP information. Cover photo: Canterbury Museum / AP.

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