Fossil Whale and Penguin Researcher Honored
Recently my colleague Dr. R. Ewan Fordyce received a prestigious national award, the Hutton Medal. The Hutton Medal is awarded each year by the Royal Society of New Zealand to recognize outstanding research in plant, animal or earth science. Discipline rotates over a three year cycle, and this year was an “earth” year. The medal is named for Captain Frederick Wollaston Hutton, an early supporter of Charles Darwin and describer of many species of New Zealand fish, invertebrates and birds. Among the past recipients of the award is Walter Reginald Brook Oliver, who wrote the seminal book New Zealand Birds. He named the fossil species Pachydyptes ponderosus (probably the heaviest penguin ever to have lived) and was also the first to formally name the Snares Penguin (Eudyptes robustus).
It is very welcome news to hear that Dr. Fordyce has received this award, for no one has contributed more to our understanding of extinct penguins from New Zealand. Over the years, he has discovered and collected dozens of important specimens and authored papers on the species Waimanu manneringi, Waimanu tuatahi, and Kaiika maxwelli. I had the distinct pleasure of working together with him on the description of Kairuku waitaki and Kairuku grebneffi. Although Dr. Fordyce has contributed heartily to the field collection and scientific study of fossil penguins, he is more widely known in scientific realms for his research on cetaceans. In the past, New Zealand was home to many unusual dolphins and whales, including primitive “proto-baleen” whales that still retained proper teeth, some of the most ancient baleen whale species, a pug-nosed dolphin, and menacing shark-toothed dolphins. You can read more about these wonderful seafaring creatures here. Many of these fascinating fossils impress children in museums and give paleontologists data to ponder thanks to Dr. Fordyce’s work.
So, a hearty congratulations is due. It is not every day that one wins a medal with both a kiwi and a tuatara engraved upon it, and it is certainly a moment to savor.