North Island Giant Penguin on Display
A remarkably complete giant penguin is now on display at the Waikato Museum in New Zealand. This penguin was discovered not by professional paleontologists from a museum or university, but by the Hamilton Junior Naturalist (JUNATS), a group of young scouts. The penguin bones were spotted embedded in the rocky shoreline, awash in the shallow waves. According to the report, the JUNATS originally though they had come across “an old rusty propeller”. Indeed, the orange-brown colors of the bone have the appearance of distressed iron, lending to their charm. Once their mentors established that the group had a fossil on their hands, an excavation effort began. You can see the process in the video below.
Now, the fossil is in the Waikato Museum curated by Salina Ghazally, which includes some neat accompaniments such as a touchscreen interactive with 3D bone scans. Experts including Dr. Daniel Thomas are investigating the bones too, to determine their affinities. This penguin is important because although New Zealand is the world capital in fossil penguin diversity, almost all of the fossils that have been described were discovered on the South Island. The new fossil is the best ever discovered on the North Island and will be key in establishing how penguin species overlapped or differed in the two regions millions of years ago. I had the chance to see this superb fossil in 2011, and it is well worth the trip. Like my own home museum, the Bruce Museum, the Waikato Museum hosts art, science and history exhibitions, so there is always something new to see.