Walking with Giants: The Discovery of the Supersize Penguins

For centuries, New Zealand has provided a secure harbor for earthbound birds, free from the threat of terrestrial predators. This permitted flightless moas, kiwis, along with parrots to flourish in the region.

Recently, researchers have uncovered evidence of two new prehistoric penguin species that also made their home in New Zealand. One of these species was a massive penguin, weighing in at an impressive 350 pounds, that roamed the New Zealand coastlines nearly 60 million years ago.

This enormous penguin, now the heaviest penguin known to science, was as heavy as a fully-grown gorilla.

Fossilized Remains Found in 57 Million-Year-Old Boulders

In 2017, Alan Tennyson, a paleontologist at the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum in New Zealand, made an exciting discovery.

While exploring a beach known for its unique geological formations, the Moeraki Boulders, he came across bones belonging to a giant seabird. The tide had broken open some of the 57 million-year-old boulders, revealing the fossilized remains hidden within.

Upon examination, they found the humerus bone of one species measured over nine and a half inches, almost double the size of the humerus bones of emperor penguins, which are currently the largest living penguins.

Another discovery of a smaller, more well-preserved penguin species also showed indications of being larger than the emperor penguin.

The research published on Wednesday in the Paleontology Journal introduced the discovery of these two large penguins by the research team.

The researchers gave the name Kumimanu Fordyce, a blend of Maori words meaning “monster” and “bird,” to the larger penguin, while the smaller penguin was named Petradyptes Stonehousei, meaning “rock diver.”

The “Monstrous Bird” Weighed Approximately 340 Pounds

The researchers constructed 3-D models of Kumimanu’s gigantic humerus bone and compared its dimensions and form to those of other prehistoric, contemporary penguins.

Through this analysis, they estimated the “monstrous bird” weighed approximately 340 pounds. This is roughly equivalent to 15 pounds heavier than the Philadelphia Eagles’ right tackle, Lane Johnson, who was a key player in the Super Bowl.

Paleontologist Daniel Ksepka of the Bruce Museum in Connecticut (and a contributor to the recent study) explains that due to the limited skeleton remains of Kumimanu, determining its height is challenging.

However, Ksepka estimates the “monster bird” stood at roughly five feet, two inches and had a compact build. As for the smaller penguin, Petradyptes, it still weighed a substantial 110 pounds, surpassing the weight of the largest living emperor penguin, which weighs up to 88 pounds.

According to Dr. Ksepka, during a favorable time in oceanic history, both Kumimanu and Petradyptes roamed the seas near New Zealand.

The devastating impact of the asteroid that marked the end of the dinosaur era eradicated the majority of marine reptiles. The progenitors of seals and whales remained on land.

This resulted in a lack of threats to these penguins the size of a black bear.