- Carucu waveroa was found in 2006 at Kawia Harbor in the North Island.
- It was discovered on a visit by members of the Hamilton Junior Naturalists Club
- Researchers led by Massey University have now confirmed that it is a new species.
- Its name – ‘Waveroa’ – is derived from the Te Re Māori word for ‘long legs’.
A giant, child-sized penguin, the fossil remains of which were first discovered by New Zealand schoolchildren, has been revealed to be a previously unknown species.
Kairuku waveroa lived about 34.6–27.3 million years ago and stood 4′ 7″ tall, and was first discovered in 2006 in Kawia Harbor on the North Island.
The time when If Waweroa was alive, during what geologists call the Oligocene epoch, much of New Zealand’s Waikato region would have been under water.
Researchers from Massey University and the Bruce Museum in Connecticut took a 3D scan of the fossil and compared it with other birds to confirm that it was a new species.
They also used the scans to 3D print a replica of the K. waewaeroa specimen for members of the Hamilton Junior Naturalists’ Club, who found the actual fossil.
The club generously donated the authentic specimen to the Waikato Museum (Te wheree tonga o Waikato) in 2017.
The fossil record of penguins dates back roughly to the age of dinosaurs – most of which have been unearthed in New Zealand, particularly in Canterbury and Otago.
A giant, human-sized penguin, the fossil remains of which were first discovered by New Zealand schoolchildren, has been revealed to be a previously unknown species. Image: An artist’s impression of what a 4′ 7″ Kairuku Waweroa would have looked like over the course of life
The time when If Waweroa was alive, during what geologists call the Oligocene epoch, much of New Zealand’s Waikato region would have been under water. Image: fossil remains of K. waewaeroa (right, top left with an illustration) and a size comparison with a modern-day emperor penguin, Aptenodytes forsteri (bottom right)
Of. Waweroa stats
Location: Waikato, New Zealand
Ages: 34.6–27.3 million years ago
Height: 4 feet 7 inches
Notable Features: long legs
searched for: 2006
The study was conducted by ornithologist Daniel Thomas of Massey University in Auckland and colleagues.
Dr Thomas explained, ‘The penguin is similar to the Kairuku giant penguin previously described from Otago, but it has much longer legs, which researchers used to name Penguin Waweroa – Te Rey Māori for “long legs”.
‘These long legs would have made the penguin much taller than other caroku when walking on land – probably around 1.4 meters [4 feet 7 inches] long, and can affect how fast it can swim or how deep it can dive.
‘It has been a real privilege to contribute to this incredible penguin story. We know how important this fossil is to many people.’
‘Kairuku Vaveroa is symbolic for a number of reasons. The fossil penguin reminds us that we share Zealandia with incredible animal lineages that reach deep in time, and that sharing gives us an important custodial role.’
(Zeelandia is the name given to the lost continent beneath present-day New Zealand that submerged in the sea about 23 million years ago.)
Dr Thomas continued: ‘The way the fossil penguin was discovered – by nature-exploring children – reminds us of the importance of encouraging future generations to become kaitiyaki [guardians].’
The president of the Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club, Mike Saffi, said that the children who joined K.K. in 2006. Waveroa fossils they will remember the experience for the rest of their lives.
“It was a rare privilege for the kids in our club to have the opportunity to find and save this giant fossil penguin,” he said.
‘We always encourage young people to explore and enjoy the great outdoors. There are so many good things out there just waiting to be discovered.’
Researchers from Massey University and the Bruce Museum in Connecticut took a 3D scan of the fossil and compared it with other birds to confirm that it was a new species. Image: Fossilized femora (upper hind limb bones) of K. waewaeroa collected from New Zealand
One of the students – Stephan Seyfee – was present both when the ancient penguin was discovered and during the mission to retrieve it from the ground.
‘It is real to know that what we discovered so many years ago as children is contributing to education today. And it’s a new species too!’ he said.
‘The existence of giant penguins in New Zealand is hardly known, so it is really great to know that the community continues to study and learn more about them.
‘Apparently a day well spent cutting it out of sandstone!’ He chuckled.
The team used their scans to 3D print a replica of the K. waewaeroa specimen for members of the Hamilton Junior Naturalists’ Club, who found the actual fossil. The club generously donated the authentic specimen to the Waikato Museum (Te wheree tonga o Waikato) in 2017. Image: K. Selection of fossil bones from Waveroa’s feathers
‘It was definitely one of those little surreal things for me to look back on the full bucket list moment,’ said Alwyn Dale, who helped recover the fossil.
There were some pretty iconic stories of amazing discoveries and special experiences after joining the ‘Hamilton Junior Naturalists’ Club – and a giant penguin fossil has been excavated there!
“A real testament to all the parents and volunteers who gave their time and resources to create unique and creative memories for club members,” he concluded.
‘It’s thrilling to be involved in the discovery of such a large and relatively complete fossil, let alone a new species!’ Agreed plant ecologist Esther Dale, who was also present for the discovery but now lives in Switzerland.
‘I’m excited to see what we can learn from this about penguin evolution and life in the New…