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Kairuku (Chris Gaskin)


Kairuku (Maori for "diver who brings back food"); pronounced kai-ROO-koo


Shorelines of New Zealand

Historical Period:

Oligocene (27 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 5 feet tall and 130 pounds


Fish and marine animals

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Tall, slender build; narrow beak


About Kairuku:

One doesn't normally cite New Zealand as one of the world's great fossil-producing countries--unless, of course, you're talking about prehistoric penguins. Not only has New Zealand yielded the remains of the earliest known penguin, the 50-million-year-old Waimanu, but these rocky islands were also home to the tallest, heaviest penguin yet discovered, Kairuku. Living during the Oligocene epoch, about 27 million years ago, Kairuku had the approximate dimensions of a shortish human being (about five feet tall and 130 pounds), and prowled the shorelines for tasty fish, small dolphins, and other marine creatures. And yes, in case you were curious, Kairuku was even bigger than the so-called Giant Penguin, Icadyptes, which lived a few million years earlier in South America.

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