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Fossil Of Human-Sized Penguin Found In New Zealand

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Before humans walked the Earth, there were dinosaurs, woolly mammoths and monster penguins?

PAUL SCOFIELD: It's actually about the same height as the average New Zealand woman.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A penguin the size of a person. So says Paul Scofield, senior curator of natural history at the Canterbury Museum in New Zealand.

MARTIN: He co-authored a report about his team's latest discovery - fossils of long-extinct giant penguins. It was published this week in a paleontology journal. Scofield says the discovery links New Zealand to Antarctica, where a similar giant penguin fossil was found.

SCOFIELD: The climate of both Antarctica and New Zealand at the time was much more tropical and, really, climate you'd associate with tropics today. And on this quite balmy coastline, there were these giant penguins.

GREENE: All right. So a 5-foot-2, 170-pound penguin might still have been a snack for a dinosaur. But by the time penguins were roaming the balmy coastlines of Antarctica roughly 60 million years ago, the dinosaurs had gone extinct.

SCOFIELD: Which basically made the sea quite a nice place to be, really. There were a few sharks but not really large, nasty sharks.

MARTIN: So the mega penguins thrived, at least until 30 million years later. That's when large marine mammals took over the sea. But Scofield says that the mega penguin legacy lives on in the 17 species of penguins that call New Zealand home today.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDERIC PETITPAS'S "BRAVING THE STORM (CHILL PENGUIN)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.