Before we dive in, I highly suggest you read this article in Morgan Freeman voice, à la March of the Penguins. Ok, let's dive in.
Fossils of a giant penguin have been found in New Zealand, and it’s big news… literally. The human-sized bird was nearly 5 feet 10 inches long when swimming and weighed a hefty 223 lbs. As the Associated Press notes, the ancient penguin was about the same size as the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby. Flippers probably don’t make the best hockey sticks, though. There’s also the fact that when standing, the bird only stood 5 feet 3 inches tall—still pretty impressive by penguin-standards. To give you some perspective, the biggest penguin today is the emperor in Antarctica, and it comes in a measly 4 feet tall.
Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany says the creature is about 7 inches longer than any other penguin whose skeleton is complete enough for comparison. Mayr and others published a study on the 56-60 million year-old creature in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday. Mayr and his colleagues named it Kumimanu biceae, which is a mashup of one of the author’s mother’s names and the Maori words for a bird and a mythological monster. Not sure if that makes it a compliment or insult to the author’s mom, but I digress.
Daniel Ksepka, curator at the Bruce Museum of Greenwich, Connecticut says the finding indicates that penguins grew rapidly after the same mass extinction that killed off the dinosaurs some 66 million years ago. (Ksepka did not participate in Mayr’s study, but he’s studied the fossils of New Zealand penguins.) As Ksepka explains, in the absence of predatory marine reptiles who could have easily killed the non-flying seabirds, penguins were allowed to flourish and grow in size. So what killed Kumimanu? Mayr says researchers believe the giant penguins died out as they competed for food and safe breeding places with other large marine mammals, like seals, who may have hunted them as well. R.I.P.