Friday, March 9, 2012

Old penguin found, new penguin lost

New Zealand, Kairuku, 127cm (50")
The bones of giant penguins have been excavated occasionally in New Zealand since the 1940s (photo of a 2011 find here). But it has only been a matter of weeks since the 27-million-year-old birds were formally named as a new species. They have been dubbed Kairuku waitaki and Kairuku grebneffi - "kairuku" being a Maori word that loosely translates to “diver who returns with food” - and described in the current issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. On his blog, paleontologist Dr. Daniel Ksepka of North Carolina State University characterizes the prehistoric penguin as a svelte creature with a striking figure, elegant and sleek yet powerful. Their legs were more robust, but they had an elongated trunk, narrow bill, and long, narrow wing bones that gave them more graceful proportions than living penguins - and a lot more height. "If we had done a reconstruction by extrapolating from the length of its flippers, it would have stood over 6' tall!" reveals Dr. Ksepka. He can be seen with a specimen of a Kairuku skeleton here, and a reconstruction by artist Chris Gaskin of the birds with a stranded dolphin appears above. Dr. Ksepka writes, "You can practically feel the wind whipping sand and ocean spray into the air as the two penguins come ashore."

Japan, Humboldt, 60cm (24")
Zookeepers at Tokyo's Sea Life Park are still trying to find a penguin that escaped 5 days ago, after apparently being startled into climbing over a rock twice its size. Staff were alerted to the breakout last weekend after the animal was spotted bathing in the mouth of a river that runs into Tokyo Bay: "We first noticed the penguin might have fled when the director of a neighboring zoo e-mailed us Sunday with a photo," park official Takashi Sugino told a reporter (see the photo here). "We haven't given up hope. We have received information that indicates the penguin caught some fish and ate them, so we are hopeful that the bird is still alive," said Satoshi Toda. They have enlisted the help of birdwatchers to look out for the 1-year-old bird, but warn not to attempt capture. "In the event that you see a penguin on the loose, please let us know and don't run after it or try to catch it," reads the press release. None of the remaining 134 penguins have broken out, but the escapee has remained elusive because it swims, as you might imagine, "at a tremendous speed."

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