Largest penguin to ever live, unearthed

Discovery of a discovery

In North Otago, on New Zealand’s South Island, between 2016 and 2017, Alan Tennyson from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, discovered the fossils in 57million-year-old beach boulders.

These fossils supposedly belonged to the largest penguin that ever lived. This penguin weighted approximately around 150 kilograms; this is almost three times more than the average penguins weight, which is around 22-45 kg.

These news come out now because of the discoveries an International team from Cambridge University made. They were able to report this discovery while going trough the Journal of Paleontology , where they found Alan Tennysons discovery. After this, the fossils were digged up from the beach boulders and were further examined.

The fossils

When the fossils were exposed, they were identified as being between 59.5 and 55.5 million years old. This means that they must have existed a couple million years after the end-Cretaceous extinction. Moreover, this was the extinction which led to the disappearance of non-avian dinosaurs.

These fossils were compared to the ones which belonged to modern penguins, auks, and other birds. The process consisted in scanning the bones with a laser in order to create digital models of the bones. After this, the team calculated a regression using flipper bone dimensions to predict the weight of the new penguin´s fossils.

Many early fossil penguins attained enormous sizes, easily dwarfing the largest penguins alive today. Our new species, Kumimanu fordycei, is the largest fossil penguin ever discovered—at approximately 350 pounds, it would have weighed more than Shaquille O’Neal [basketball player] at the peak of his dominance!

Dr.Daniel Field
Cambridge´s Department of Earth Sciences

Kumimanu fordycei

This was the name given to this fossil-species penguin, and it had a very interesting reason behind it. The name was given to honor Dr. R. Ewan Fordyce, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Otago.

Without Ewan´s field program, we wouldn’t even know that many iconic fossil species existed, so it is only right that he has his own penguin namesake

Dr. Daniel Ksepka
Bruce Museum (Greenwich, Connecticut)

Daniel Ksepka speculated that the reason why they had such a big size, was because of the advantages it brought them. Being so big, made it possible for them to be more efficient in the water, conserve their body temperature better and to reach food which isn’t easy to access.


It would be an incredible experience to be able to see the Kumimanu fordycei on the beaches in New Zealand. Sadly, that isn’t possible. Either way, the size of this specimen and the still remaining mysteries of its fossils makes it one of the most intriguing fossil birds ever found. Maybe in the future, more research will make it possible to get to know the Kumimanu fordycei better.

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