Elegant Giants – 15 pics

Today we look at the stories of penguins' life with enthusiasm. Tucked in their white continent, they were kind of unknown subjects to the rest of the world for the long time. But, thanks to numerous researchers of nowadays, we found out amazing data about them and through lovable movies, like Happy Feet, Mr Popper's Penguins and National Geographic series we simply adore them! This nice creatures, like elegant gentlemen in tailcoats, are not on this Earth from 'yesterday'. There are many traces which show us that penguins are birds living here for a long, long time. Fossils of penguins were found in Antarctica, New Zealand, Australia, South America (Argentina, Peru, Chile) and South Africa. The oldest fossil ever found originates from New Zealand and dates back from Paleocene period. The oldest inscription about extincted penguins describes a specie from Seymour Island and peninsula Antarctica from Eocene period. Back in 1977, professor Ivan Fordyce found something unusual in New Zealand.

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While doing researches in South island he found the first traces of penguins who lived in this place about 27 to 24 million years ago. 'Just' 27 million years! As the professor was very persistent in his work, in time he was discovering more and more parts – remainings of these penguins, he called a paleontology specialist Daniel Ksepca for help in reconstruction of this, for us completely unusual penguin. A giant penguin, that scientists named Kairuku (that in language of Moors means 'a diver who comes back with food') had short, fat legs and feet, but slim body and long fins; he was about 1,3m high and about 60kg weight. Hence significantly higher than today's high emperor penguins. This kind of height, and constitution at all, allowed him to swim for a longer time and dive deeper than today's penguin species. In time when Kairuku lived, New Zealand was pretty isolated and mostly underwater. It consisted of isolated, rocky parts that provided protection from predators and plenty of food. The reason for extinction of these penguins isn't precisely determined, but there are some assumptions that it was because of climate changes or increasing the number of predators (seals and dolphins).

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However, Kairuku penguins from New Zealand aren't the only ones whose fossils were found and examined. Fossils found in Seymour island near the coast of Antarctica and New Zealand belong to extincted specie of giant penguins called 'Anthropornis nordenskjoeldi' that lived in late Eocene period and in the beginning of Oligocene period, 37 to 45 million years ago. In comparison to today's biggest emperor penguin that is high about 1,2m these penguins were really giants. They could grow up to 1,7m high and weight up to 90kg. Even older and bigger fossil sample was found in Peru, but we'll leave that subject for another time. If you still haven't watched the Happy Feet animated movie, I strongly recommend it to you. Enjoy looking these beautiful and very durable birds!

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