Penguins the size of humans once swam oceans
Scientists in New Zealand say they've found fossilised bones from an extinct monster penguin that was about the size of an adult human and swam the oceans some 60 million years ago.
They said the previously undiscovered species is believed to have stood about 1.6 metres tall and weighed up to 80kg. It's believed to have been one of several species of giant penguins that thrived soon after dinosaurs died out.
The findings were published in 'Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology'.
Paul Scofield, a co-author of the paper and senior curator at the Canterbury Museum, said the discovery was significant because the species was similar to another giant penguin found in Antarctica in 2000 and helped show a connection between the two regions during the Paleocene Epoch.
He said that, following the extinction of dinosaurs, marine reptiles and gigantic fish, it seemed there was an evolutionary opportunity for penguins to thrive and grow in size.
"The oceans were ripe for the picking with the lack of megapredators," Mr Scofield said. "It looks like what was going on was that penguins were just starting to exploit that niche."
But he said the giant penguins themselves became extinct within 30 million years as large marine mammals began ruling the waters.
The monster penguins, named Crossvallia waiparensis, would have been about twice the weight and 30cm taller than the largest type of penguins alive today, emperor penguins.
New Zealand is believed to have been the site of many gigantic birds that later became extinct, including the world's largest parrot, a giant eagle and an emu-like bird called the moa. Scientists say the lack of predators allowed such birds to thrive.
The monster penguin's bones, from its legs and feet, were found by an amateur enthusiast about 18 months ago in the Waipara River bed near Christchurch.
The scientists say they have discovered other new penguin species at the remarkable site, which they haven't yet finished researching.