Students find fossilised giant penguin

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Children on a field trip in New Zealand have discovered what may be the finest giant penguin fossil yet found. These early penguins stood 1.5 metres (5 feet) tall, weighing over 100 kilograms (220 pounds), and lived some 40 million years ago.

While the party of 22 from the Hamilton Junior Naturalists Club were looking for fossils, they did not expect to find anything this significant in their trip to Kawhia, an hour southwest of Hamilton. Group leader Chris Templer said that the sea was already beginning to erode the fossil, and if it had not been found for another 18 months, there might not have been much left. He has dreamed of making a find like this since he began hunting fossils as an eight-year-old. "I went 'Oh my God', and just about keeled over on the reef," he said.

The fossil has been carefully removed after consultation with Te Papa (the national museum) and local Māori. Experts are excited by the completeness of the Kawhia fossil. Although roughly a dozen extinct penguin species have already been discovered in New Zealand, only a few fossilised bones have been found from most of these species. Te Papa has only three bones from the largest giant penguin. According to Alan Tennyson, curator of fossils at Te Papa, the Kawhia discovery might be of international significance. "I think it's very exciting to find something like this...it's a very rare event to find such a well preserved specimen," he enthused.

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