Find a fossil when you are a kid it must be very exciting. But if that fossil suddenly turns into a never-before-discovered species, the excitement turns into exhilaration. That must have been precisely what a team of schoolchildren from New Zealand, when in 2006 he found the remains of a giant penguin during an excursion.
The children were part of the Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club (JUNATS), dedicated precisely to promoting this type of outdoor activities among the youngest. They were all little explorers, eager to find hidden treasures in nature. But surely no one imagined what that exit to the field.
It took 15 years for a study to finally be published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, with the collaboration of scientists from the Massey University. Meanwhile, those children have become adults, several of them scientists. Perhaps precisely because that great discovery served to further enliven a love for science; that undoubtedly still has much more to grow.
The surprising find of a giant penguin fossil
The excursion was precisely programmed so that the children could enjoy a day in search of fossils. It is not difficult to find them in New Zealand if you go with someone as experienced as Chris templer, the director of the Club.
The penguin resembled another species already described, but had longer legs
So that they found a fossil was not surprising. The surprise was to see that it was a giant penguin. Several species have been found in the area, especially in the regions of Otago, Canterbury, Taranaki and Waikato. Initially, it was thought that it must correspond to one of those in Waikato, since this is the region in which the excursion took place.
However, when the fossils were made available to scientists from Massey University and the Bruce Museum, they discovered that it was a new species.
Actually, it bore a strong resemblance to kairuku penguins, previously found in Otago. However, a 3d scan and a later comparison with bones of this and other species showed that the legs were much longer. In fact, it was for this reason that it was baptized as Kairuku waewaeroa, as this second word in Maori means big legs.
These limbs made a big difference, as they must have given him a great height when walking upright, about 1.4 meters, and they must also have had a significant influence on their way of swimming.
Regarding the age of the fossil, it seems that this penguin walked on Earth 27.3-34.6 million years ago, a time when much of Waikato was submerged under water.
Several of the now adult children who participated in the finding have been excited in the statement issued after the publication of the study. And is not for less. They say that in life we should all plant a tree, write a book, and have a child. But what about the fossils? Is it that nobody thinks about the excitement of discovering a new species?